Sunday, August 13, 2017

Madonna in the Garden - 15C Garden - Hortus Conclusus - The Virgin Mary

Illustrated manuscripts and early depictions of landscapes in portrayals of The Madonna and Biblical gardens give us a glimpse of gardens familiar & imagined during the periods the images were created.
1410 The Garden of Eden, a Hortus Conclusus Garden. St├Ądelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt

Hortus conclusus is a Latin term, meaning literally "enclosed garden." The secluded garden, or ‘hortus conclusus’, was associated with the Virgin Mary usually in a monastery garden. Many images of medieval gardens are allegorical or metaphorical, rather than realistic representations of specific medieval gardens. 

Here the grass treated as a flowery mead planted with low growing wild flowers, sweet scented flowers, & more practical herbs. A Mead is a medieval garden designed to imitate a small meadow or sometimes a larger, natural meadow. A Flowery Mead is a medieval term for a lawn rich in wild flowers. A flowery mead is often one of the essential components of a medieval garden. The flowery mead depicted is seldom within a distinct, geometric, larger garden.  

Albertus Magnus (c 1200-1280), a German Dominican friar & a Catholic bishop, was a great admirer of lawns & flowery meads "For the sight is in now way so pleasantly refreshed as by fine and close grass kept short." Most writers recommend digging out the original 'waste' plants, killing the seeds in the soil by flooding with boiling water, then laying out the lawn with curves laid in and pounded well. Another writer recommended mowing them twice a year; lawn mowing would have been done with scythes or primitive shears. 

Birds share the space & fill the air with their songs. In this fantasy religious garden surrounded by a wall, the Virgin, the Child Jesus, 3 holy women & 3 holy men have met. This enclosed garden (hortus conclusus) is the symbol of the Virgin's purity, with its peaceful mood, its protected area, its fruits & flowers. The serpentine entwining of the 2 trunks of the trees on the left also reminds the viewer of the biblical Garden of Eden, the scene of the happy life of the 1st human couple before the temptation of Eve. 

The image of the hortus conclusus is intended to evoke the ancient, original, pre-sin harmony of the universe, of divine, human, animal & vegetable worlds. The Satan-monkey is squatting helplessly at St Michael's feet, while St George's dragon, very young & a little wimpy, seems to be basking in the sun, submissively turning his belly upwards. The crowns are golden garlands of flowers, & the left arm of St Cecilia holds a psaltery.