Posts Tagged ‘Unicorn in Captivity’

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

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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 »

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Another Thistle


Left: Silybum marianum, the Marian thistle, is also known as milk thistle, because of the milky-white streaks on the spiny leaves; right: The thistle appears outside and below the enclosure of the captive Unicorn, near the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), another plant associated with the Virgin. Visit the Collection Database to see the detail in context and learn more about The Unicorn in Captivity.

While thistles were a thorn in the farmer’s side, then as now, virtually all plants were accorded medicinal value in the Middle Ages. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) was eaten as a vegetable, and is grown in a bed devoted to pottage plants here at The Cloisters, but it has a rightful place in the medicinal collection as well. Read more »