Archive for the ‘Plants in Medieval Art’ Category

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Of Art and Gardens

Annunciation Triptych

Robert Campin and Workshop (South Netherlandish, Tournai, ca. 1375–1444). Triptych with the Annunciation, known as the “Merode Altarpiece,” ca. 1427–32. Made in Tournai, South Netherlands. Oil on oak. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1956 (56.70a–c). See Google Art Project for an in-depth look at this work.

A great many things have changed during the twenty years that I’ve been working at The Cloisters, but its special atmosphere remains constant. One of the most unique aspects of the Museum is the way in which the gardens are integrated into the collection. From the Museum’s inception, the curators envisioned the artwork and gardens as a whole, where the plants were not merely aesthetic elements, but also of great educational value. Many of the galleries either open directly onto or provide views into one of the three interior gardens (see floor plan). This arrangement encourages visitors to experience the gardens as part of medieval culture, to make connections between the plants and the objects, and to understand both within the historical context presented in the galleries. Read more »

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Name That Plant, Continued

1999392a_flower_detail 1999392a_strawberry_detail

Above: Two details from a tapestry-woven praetexta (Germany, Cologne, about 1450-75) currently on display at The Cloisters. The flower shown at the center of the detail on the left is a fantasy. The detail on the right shows a botanically unmistakable lily;  a strawberry, embellished with a fanciful and botanically incorrect element at the bottom of the fruit, appears just below and to the left of the lily.  See the full image.

A plant in a medieval work of art need not be naturalistically depicted to be recognizable. Even a very stylized representation may have characteristics so distinctive that it can be given a botanical identity with complete confidence. Read more »

Friday, January 28, 2011

Name That Plant

Unicorn_in_Captivity Calendula_detail Doronicum_detail

Above: Three details from The Unicorn in Captivity, 1495–1505, South Netherlandish; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.6).

Many of the superbly rendered plants and flowers depicted in The Unicorn in Captivity are botanically correct: most are detailed portraits of individual species that are lifelike enough to be immediately identifiable; a number of others are somewhat stylized depictions that conform to a recognizable convention, and a few are so highly stylized that they can’t be given a specific identity. Medieval tapestries as late in date as this one (about the year 1500) have a much higher proportion of recognizable plants than millefleurs tapestries of the early fifteenth century, in which many if not all of the plants may be highly stylized generic types, rather than naturalistically rendered botanical species. Read more »

Friday, November 12, 2010

Feverfew

Tanacetum parthenium with label Tanacetum parthenium The Unicorn Defends Itself (feverfew detail)

The common name of feverfew is derived from the Latin febrifuge. Botanists now place this member of the aster family in the genus Tanacetum, but feverfew was formerly known both as Chrysanthemum parthenium and Pyrethrum parthenium and may be listed as such in older sources. Above, left and center: Feverfew growing in Bonnefont garden in November; right: the only feverfew plant depicted in the Unicorn Tapestries appears between the feet of the hunter poised to spear the quarry in The Unicorn Defends Itself.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a strongly aromatic herb in the aster family; it is closely related to costmary (Tanacetum balsamita) and to tansy (Tanacetum officinale), both of which also grow in Bonnefont garden. While tansy has been employed as a medicine, a food, and an insect repellent, feverfew is strictly a medicinal herb. The medieval name of this antipyretic species is derived from the Latin febrifuge and refers to its usefulness in driving off fever. Read more »

Friday, November 5, 2010

Calendar Girl

unicorn_calendula_detail Calendula in Winter Adoration of The Magi: calendula detail

The golden flowers of the calendula, said to bloom in every month of the year, figure in the art, literature, and medicine of the Middle Ages. Called “golds” in medieval English, the flowers were associated with the Virgin and came to be known as “marigolds” by the sixteenth century. Above, from left to right: Detail of a large calendula plant, bearing many blooms, which appears below the golden fence enclosing The Unicorn in Captivity; a calendula blooming in December; the daisy-like flower is often shown in profile in medieval depictions, as in this detail of an urn with three calendula flowers shown in the foreground of a silver-stain roundel depicting the Adoration of the Magi.

‘Golde [Marigold] is bitter in savour
Fayr and zelw [yellow] is his flowur
Ye golde flour is good to sene
It makyth ye syth bryth and clene
Wyscely to lokyn on his flowres
Drawyth owt of ye heed wikked hirores
[humours]. . . .

Loke wyscely on golde erly at morwe [morning]
Yat day fro feures it schall ye borwe:
Ye odour of ye golde is good to smelle.’

—From the herbal of Macer, as quoted in A Modern Herbal

Read more »

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mutter Natur

<i>Pisum sativum arvense</i>, "Blue Pod Capucijners" Madonna lily (<i>Lilum candidum</i>) Milk thistle (<i>Silybum marianum</i>)

Many of the healing herbs, flowers, and foodstuffs mentioned by the twelfth-century Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen in her great work Physica are grown in Bonnefont garden at The Cloisters. Above, from left to right: Field peas (Pisum sativum arvense, variety ‘Blue Pod Capucijners’); Madonna lily (Lilium candidum); milk thistle (Silybum marianum).  Photographs from the Gardens archives.

It is the first book in which a woman discusses plants and trees in relation to their physical properties. It is the earliest book on natural history to be done in Germany and is, in essence, the foundation of botanical study there. It influenced the 16th-century works of Brunfels, Fuchs, and Bock, the so-called “German fathers of botany,” but the fact is that German botany is more indebted to a “mother.”
—Frank Anderson on the Physica, from An Illustrated History of the Herbals

Certain plants grow from air. These plants are gentle on the digestion and possess a happy nature, producing happiness in anyone who eats them. They are like a person’s hair in that they are always light and airy. Certain other herbs are windy, since they grow from the wind. These herbs are dry, and heavy on one’s digestion. They are of a sad nature, making the person who eats them sad. They are comparable to human perspiration. Moreover, there are herbs which are fatal as human food . . . they are comparable to human excrement.
—From Book I of the Physica, translated by Priscilla Throop

Hildegard of Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, poet, dramatist, composer, and the most learned woman of the twelfth century, wrote the Physica, or Natural Science, about the year 1150. Read more »

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Salvia, Save Us

Salvia officinalis Detail from The Unicorn is Found Salvia fruticosa

Sage, known by Latin epithets such as Salvia salvatrix, was a healing plant of great renown throughout the Middle Ages, although it was also valued as a culinary herb. Above, left: Salvia officinalis, the common garden sage, growing in a bed devoted to kitchen plants in Bonnefont garden; center: a detail from The Unicorn is Found, showing Salvia officinalis in flower; right: Greek sage or three-lobed sage (Salvia fruticosa) is not hardy in our climate, and is grown in pots and brought under cover in winter. The medicinal properties of this species were celebrated in antiquity and were conflated with those of S. officinalis.

Why should a man die in whose garden grows sage?
Against the power of death there is not medicine in our gardens
But Sage calms the nerves, takes away hand
Tremors, and helps cure fever.
Sage, castoreum, lavender, primrose,
Nasturtium, and athanasia cure paralytic parts of the body.
O sage the savior, of nature the conciliator!

—From Page Ten of the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum (A Salernitan Regimen of Health). See the Gode Cookery website to read the entire poem.

Cur moriatur homo cui salvia crescit in horto? (Why should a man die who has sage growing in his garden?) This much-quoted Latin adage is from the famous medieval didactic poem on maintaining good health, the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum. Read more »

Monday, August 23, 2010

Slug Fest

Garden Slug on a Leaf Garden Slug Extended Slug Trap

Above, left: The great gray slug, also known as the leopard slug because of the spots and streaks on its mantle, at home in Bonnefont garden. These nocturnal garden pests are not normally seen during daylight hours. This specimen was spied early one morning, and posed to have his-her portrait taken (slugs are hermaphrodites). Center: When fully extended, the adult slug can reach an impressive length. Right: A single strategically placed slug trap baited with beer will attract quite a few slugs. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt.

The great gray slug (Limax maximus) is also commonly known as the leopard slug because of the characteristic dark spotting on the mantle which covers the upper part of its body; the lower part of its body, known as the foot, is often streaked or striped. Leopard slugs vary in color from brownish green to gray, with whitish undersides. Adult slugs range from 4 to 8 inches in length. Read more »

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Garden in Heraldry

Heraldic Roundel Heraldic Panel Fireback

Above, from left to right: Heraldic Roundel (1980.214.4); Heraldic Panel with the Arms of the House of Hapsburg (37.147.2); Fireback (46.195); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection.

It’s always a special joy to be at The Cloisters in the spring when the stirring and bursting of the plants in the gardens heralds the arrival of nature’s new season with such festive trumpets of color. The reflection of the garden’s plants in the Museum’s collections is wide and well recognized, especially to those who are frequent, or even occasional, visitors to the flowered meadows of the Unicorn Tapestries or the exuberant borders of the Belles Heures of the duke of Berry. One place that shouldn’t be overlooked while visiting The Cloisters, though, is the field of heraldry. Read more »

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Green Place to Rest

Between the level turf and the herbs let there be a higher piece of turf made in the fashion of a seat, suitable for flowers and amenities; the grass in the sun’s path should be planted with trees or vines, whose branches will protect the turf with shade and cast a pleasant refreshing shadow.

—Book VIII, Chapter I: “On small gardens of herbs.” 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.)

lady_honor_400

Above: Honor Making a Chaplet of Roses, ca. 1425–1450. South Netherlandish. Wool warp, wool wefts; 93 x 108 in. (236.2 x 274.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1959 (59.85). See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

Turf benches were among the most distinctive features of medieval gardens, and are depicted in many paintings and tapestries. Such benches may be rectangular, circular, L-shaped, or U-shaped; the U-shaped type is known as an exedra. Regardless of their shape, the benches were usually constructed with low-walled frames made out of brick, wood, stone, or wattle (woven willow). The frames were then filled with soil and the surfaces were topped with turf. Turf seats were placed in the middle of the garden or against one of its walls, and were sometimes incorporated into the enclosure. Arbors or trellises were sometimes built into the seat to provide shade and shelter, while circular benches were constructed around single trees. Read more »