Archive for February, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Getting Warm

February Activity page from The Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux february-calendar_activity_bh_150 february-calendar_pisces_150

Above, from left to right: Detail of the activity for the month from the February calendar page of  The Hours of Jeanne d’Évreux, ca. 1324–28; detail of the activity for February from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409; detail of the zodiacal symbol Pisces from The Hours of Jeanne d’Évreux. See the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History to learn more about manuscript illumination in Northern Europe, or see special exhibitions for information about the exhibition “The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry” (on view at the Main Building March 2 through June 13, 2010).

In the medieval calendar tradition, the month of February is frequently represented by a solitary male figure seated before a fire; he may or may not be cooking his meal as he warms himself. A table set with a few dishes is sometimes placed by the fire, a variant on the theme of feasting common to both January and February. (See “The January Feast,” January 15, 2010). Read more »

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Birdie Love, My Birdie Love

nightingalepheasantfinches_150 unicorn-partridges_150 heronwoodcockmallard_150

Above, from left to right: In The Unicorn is Found, a handsome pair of pheasants has been attracted to the fountain (the larger detail shows two goldfinches and a nightingale perched nearby); two partridges keep company on the bank at the bottom of The Unicorn is Attacked; The Unicorn Defends Itself includes a stately heron, and a woodcock and a mallard flying low to the water are visible in the larger detail.

Saynt Valentyn, that art ful hy on-lofte,
Thus syngen smale foules for thy sake:
Now welcome, somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast this wintres wedres overshake.
Wel han they cause for to gladen ofte,
Sith ech of hem recovered hath hys make;
Ful blissful mowe they synge when they wake:
Now welcome, somer, with thy sonne softe
That hast this wintres wedres overshake
And driven away the longe nyghtes blake!

—Excerpt (lines 682–692) from The Parlement of Fowles by Geoffrey Chaucer. For a modern prose translation of the complete work, see: www.umm.maine.edu/faculty/necastro/chaucer/pf/.

Read more »

Friday, February 5, 2010

Landscape Design in the Middle Ages

annunciation_detail2_300 The Unicorn in Captivity (detail) Trie Cloister Garden

Above, from left to right: Detail from The Annunciation (17.190.7); Detail from The Unicorn in Captivity (37.80.6); Trie Cloister Garden in bloom.

…fruit trees that grow easily, such as cherries and apples, should be planted in place of walls; or, what is better, willows or elms or birch trees should be planted there, and their growth should be controlled for several years, both by grafting and by stakes, poles, and ties, so that walls and a roof might be formed from them.

—Book III: “On the Gardens of Kings and other Illustrious Lords.” Piero de’ Crescenzi, Liber ruralium commodorum (1305-09). (See Catena, the Bard Graduate Center’s Digital Archive of Historic Gardens and Landscapes for more information.)

In my undergraduate studies in landscape and architecture, I examined how the natural landscape is used to determine designs for parks, gardens, and public spaces. I took part in several design processes, which included research on site analysis, interviewing potential patrons of public spaces, building models of future designs, and using plants to blend artistic design with nature. I learned to look at the land as a palimpsest rather than a blank slate, and to examine its many layers of use throughout history, understanding that context is an important influence on new designs. Now, as the new assistant horticulturist here at The Cloisters, I’ve found more levels of meaning to my studies, and am inspired to think about design issues from a landscape historian’s perspective. Read more »

Monday, February 1, 2010

Love’s Herb

Myrtus communis Myrtle Blossoms Fruits of the Myrtle

Above, from left to right: common myrtle is grown in pots at The Cloisters and brought indoors before frost; detail of the ivory-white blossoms of Myrtus communis; detail of the blue-black fruits of the common myrtle.

In myrtle shades oft sings the happy swain,
In myrtle shades despairing ghost complain.
The myrtle crowns the happy lovers’ heads,
Th’ unhappy lovers’ graves the myrtle spreads.

—Verses Written at The Request of a Gentleman to whom a Lady had Given a Sprig of Myrtle, by Samuel Johnson

This eighteenth-century verse is a deft summation of many centuries of the myrtle’s association with love, lovers, and the goddess of love. Read more »