Archive for January, 2009

Friday, January 30, 2009

Rosemary in Winter

Rosemary in Cuxa Cloister Rosemary in flower

Left: Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) in the arcade of Cuxa Cloister; right: a rosemary plant in flower.

Although rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is one of the most popular plants at The Cloisters for its great ornamental value and colorful history, this plant does have its problems, which become especially evident when we bring it indoors during the winter months. Read more »

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Art of Topiary

Topiary Collection at The Cloisters Detail from "The Annunciation" Cotton lavender in Cuxa Cloister

Above, from left to right: Topiaries in the plant collection at The Cloisters; detail from The Annunciation, 1465–75, Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (possibly Hans Memling, active by 1465, died 1494) (Netherlandish, 1399/1400–1464), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.7); cotton lavender topiary in Cuxa Cloister.

Medieval topiary was relatively simple and non-representational. Woody plants were trained to standards topped by balls, or to a characteristically medieval form known as an estrade, in which the plant was grown in tiers. Although these are rarely represented before 1400, many fifteenth-century artworks show estrades and other simple, geometric forms growing both in pots and in garden beds. The more ornate representational topiary known to the Romans was revived in Renaissance Italy; the Rucellai garden in Florence, created in the second half of the fifteenth century, included animals and human figures, as well as topiary temples and urns.

The practice of artfully clipping and training woody plants into formal or fanciful shapes can be traced back to imperial Rome and the Natural History of Pliny the Elder, who attributes the relatively recent invention of nemora tonsilia or “barbered groves” to one Gaius Matius, a Roman knight and a friend of the Emperor Augustus (John Boardman, The Oxford History of the Roman World, 2001). Read more »

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Palm

Potted Date Palm in Saint-Guilhem Cloister Detail from The Start of the Hunt A capital in Cuxa Cloister

Above, from left to right: young date palm growing in a pot in Saint-Guilhem Cloister; a juvenile date palm represented in the northern European landscape of The Start of the Hunt; a date palm flanked by lions in a column capital in Cuxa Cloister.

A plant of ancient cultivation, grown for some five thousand years and with an equally long presence in art and architecture, the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was and is both economically and symbolically important. Date palms have provided an important food, an intoxicating liquor, a sweetener, and a building material. Identified in the ancient Near East with the Tree of Life, the palm has both religious and artistic significance in Jewish, Islamic, and Christian tradition as a symbol of grace, elegance, victory, wealth, and fecundity and is frequently associated with Paradise in medieval and Renaissance art and literature. There are forty-two Biblical references to the date palm (Moldenke and Moldenke, Plants of the Bible, 1952). An emblem of victory in Greco-Roman tradition, the palm was adopted as one of the earliest and most important plant symbols in the Christian Church, and was an emblem of the martyred saints in their victory over sin and death. Read more »

Friday, January 9, 2009

Works and Days: The Medieval Year

January page from the Belles Heures January activity from the Belles Heures Aquarius, from the Belles Heures

Above left to right: Calendar page from The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409. Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1). Center: Detail of the activity for the month; Right: Detail of the zodiacal symbol Aquarius. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

Januar By thys fyre I warme my handys;
Februar And with my spade I delfe my landys.
Marche Here I sette my thynge to sprynge,
Aprile And here I here [hear] the fowlis synge.
Maij I am as lyght as byrde on bowe,
Junij And I wede my corne well I-now [enough]
Julij With my sythe [scythe] my meade [meadow] my mead I [mow];
Auguste And here I shere my corne full low.
September With my flayll I erne my brede,
October And here I sawe [sow] my whete so rede.
November At Martynesmasse I kyll my swine;
December And at Cristesmasse I drynke redde wyne.

(Bridget Henisch, The Medieval Calendar Year, 1999)

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