Monday, July 31, 2017

Madonna in the Garden - Virgin in a Hortus Conclusus attributed to Stefan Lochner (German artist, 1400-1451)

Attributed to Stefan Lochner (German artist, 1400-1451) Madonna and Child in an enclosed Garden - Hortus Conclusus. The Virgin sits in a what is made to appear as a small, enclosed garden. The spot is sealed off from the remainder of the landscape by a monestery or castle wall. Mary is allegorically represented as a fortress. After the fall of Rome, medieval Europe (500-1500 AD) was in transition. Rulers were fighting wars against other rival kings & Christians were launching crusades. Castles & monasteries were built high on hills or mountains & walls were erected to protect against invaders. Gardens usually were hedged or walled to protect not only against invading enemies but also against interlopers, thieves, & marauding livestock.  Monasteries also followed this layout & there the garden is known as the the cloister garden from Latin claustrum, "enclosure." With the number of monasteries at their highest during the medieval period, increased of devotion to Mary popularized the hortus conclusus.

Illustrated manuscripts and early depictions of landscapes in portrayals of Biblical gardens give us a glimpse of gardens familiar & imagined during those periods. Here the Virgin is depicted with roses in a garland in her hair, suggesting metaphorical associations with the paradise bower of the Song of Songs. The rose is a symbol that has a complex symbolism and an ancient history. In the Christian religion, like the cross, it can have paradoxical meanings. It is at once a symbol of purity and a symbol of passion, heavenly perfection and earthly passion; virginity and fertility; death and life. In Catholic symbolism, the red rose is a symbol of Martyrdom, while the white rose is a symbol of purity since the earliest years of the Church. St. Ambrose relates how the rose came to have thorns. Before it became one of the flowers of the earth, the rose grew in Paradise without thorns. Only after the fall of man did the rose take on its thorns to remind man of the sins he had committed and his fall from grace; whereas its fragrance and beauty continued to remind him of the splendor of Paradise. It is probably in reference to this that the Virgin Mary is called a 'rose without thorns,' because she was exempt from Original Sin. In Renaissance art, a garland of roses is often an allusion to the Rosary of the Virgin.