Gothic Era

 



(Gothic and Early Renaissance)






European Painting from the 13th to the 15 th Century
 






 

 

Gothic Art Map
 
Exploration: Revelations (Art of the Apocalypse)
 
Exploration: Gothic Era  (Gothic and Early Renaissance)
 
 M. of the Glatz Madonna Masaccio Starnina Taddeo di Bartolo
 M. Theodoric Masolino M. Westphalian Marco Zoppo
 Torriti Jacopo Hans Memling M. of Schloss Altar Holbein the Younger
 Stefan Lochner Rogier van der Weyden M. Norwegian Andrea Mantegna
 Bonaventura Berlinghieri Hugo van der Goes Derick Baegert Cosme Tura
 M. Bertram of Munden Gerard David Lukas Moser Holbein the Elder
 M. of Kaufmann Crucifixion  Antonello da Messina M. of Albrecht Altar M. of Book of Hours
 M. of Wittingau Piero della Francesca Frances Nicolas M. of Alkmaar
 Lippo Memmi Pedro Berruguete Master E.S. M. Francke
 M. of Narbonne Parament M. of Westminster Altar Martin Schongauer M. of the Gothic Art
 Malouel Jean M. of Psalter of de Lisle Israhel van Meckenem Bernat Martorell
 M. of Wilton Dyptych M. of Cologne Workshop Bartolome Bermejo Michael Pacher
 Borrassa Lluis Sassetta Fernando Gallego Quentin Massys
 Pisanello Jaume Huguet Hans Multscher Nuno Goncalves
 Konrad of Soest Nicolas Froment Colantonio Martinus Opifex
 M. of the Ortenberg Altar M. of St. Veronica  Lluis Dalmau Juan de Levi
 Filippo Brunelleschi M. of the Paradise Garden Barthelemy d'Eyck Saxon Workshop
 Joos van Gent Limburg brothers M. of Life of the Virgin Lorenzo Monaco
 Bartolo di Fredi Robert Campin M. of St. Bartholomew Jean Fouquet
 Hubert & Jan van Eyck Konrad Witz Dieric Bouts Jacopo Bellini 

Exploration:
Albrecht Durer
 

 




Master of the Paradise Garden




See Collection:

Paul, Jean & Herman Limburg

("Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry")




See also collection:

Robert Campin


Konrad Witz


Gherardo di Jacopo Starnina

    

 

 

The discovery of nature and landscape

Making an increasing appearance in the North towards the end of the 14th century are backgrounds of plants and flowers, which soon after 1400 reach an at times breath-taking magnificence. The Master of the Paradise Garden renders each different species in loving detail. But whereas he presents the plants one by one as if in a botanical textbook, the van Eyck brothers weave them, barely twenty years later, into an organic whole. Grasses no longer stand out palely against a dark ground, as if on a carpet. Here, at least in places, we sense the rampant, untamed growth of nature, following no human rules.
The development of the portrayal of whole landscapes progressed with similar speed. While Giotto observed people and buildings with great care, the rugged, rocky hillsides of his outdoor settings remain for the most part a backdrop of secondary importance. Although he attempts to differentiate trees and plants by species, they remain something of an abbreviated representation of the riches of nature. At the hands of Simone Martini just one generation later, what was simply a foil becomes luxuriant green gardens within which (and not in front of which) the figures act out their parts. In the frescos in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, panoramas are no longer accessories, but the true protagonists. For all their stylization, they portray familiar real-life landscapes, albeit recognizable more from their architecture and embellishing details than from their barren sugar-loaf hill. When Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c. 1290—um 1348) painted the Effects of Good Government  in the same building, also well before the middle of the 14th century, he too chose a realistic landscape over a symbolic or allegorical setting. In a broad panorama, he shows the Tuscan hills with their fields, hedges, olive trees and vineyards.
In the north, it would be over fifty years before the three brothers Paul, Jean and Herman Limburg (active c. 1400— 1415) would produce landscapes painted with the same loving attention to detail, but often much more fantastical in character. As in the Siena frescos, the identifiable buildings within them serve specifically to reflect glory upon the patron of the work of art concerned. Thus in Siena they proclaimed the success and sphere of influence of the city, while in the Tres Riches Heures they reflected the magnificence of the properties owned by the Due de Berry, for whom the manuscript was executed.
Fantastical, too, are the landscapes of Melchior Broederlam in Dijon, which usher in Early Netherlandish painting. Their architecture and rugged cliffs employ formulae which had been developed in Tuscany almost a century earlier, and which had then travelled north, for example via Klosterneuburg and Hohenfurth. Although the Nativity by Robert Campin (c. 1375/80-1444), also executed for Dijon towards 1430, still employs a snaking track to draw the eye into the background, its route is now bordered by set pieces from the 15th-century viewer's world. Pollarded willows, wicker fencing, fields and contemporary buildings lead towards a distant lake. The rocky outcrop blocking the view has moved to a less obtrusive position above the stable, and appears at least a little more realistic with its patches of turf between bands of rock. At the same time, the landscape is no longer seen entirely from above, but is presented in a more accurate relationship to the figures in the foreground.
A good decade would pass before Konrad Witz (c. 1400— 1445) painted, in 1444, a recognizable landscape which no longer relied upon cities and castles for its identification. The following years subsequently saw the give and take relationship between South and North reversed. The stylized landscapes of the North, far removed from realism in the modern sense, were enriched by such a carefully-observed wealth of natural detail that even Raphael was unable to resist their charms.

 

 

Master of the Paradise Garden

 

 

Master of the Paradise Garden
Garden of Paradise
c. 1410
Stadelsches Kunstinstitut und Stadtische Galerie, Frankfurt am Main

 

 

 

Upper Rhenish Master: The Little Garden of Paradise, c. 1410


"A garden inclosed is my spouse"
 

 


 




The painting, measuring 26.3 x 33.4cm, is approximately the size of our reproduction. The work dates from c. 1410, and is now in the Stadel, Frankfurt. It shows a detail of a past world: the sequestered corner of a garden within a castle walls.
The sole function of castles at that time was to provide protection. Conflicts between nobles were far less likely to be resolved by the emperor or his courts than by attack and defence. Fighting was a part of life at every level of society. The wall in the picture shields the peaceful garden scene from a violent world.
The scene is also secluded from the confusion and discomforts of everyday life: excrement on the roads, stray dogs and pigs everywhere, the stench, cramped gloom and cold of the dwellings, the constant presence of sickness and poverty. The garden idyll shows a pictorial antidote to the hardships endured by the people of the time.
Gardens designed for pleasure were less common in 1410 than today. The first gardens in northern climes dated from the Roman occupation, but these disappeared with the collapse of the Roman Empire and the subsequent chaos of mass migration. With the spread of monastic life the idea of the garden again crossed the Alps, though the new horticulture was generally motivated by pragmatic rather than aesthetic considerations. Spices and medicinal herbs were grown in the cloister quadrangle, at whose centre stood a well. Part of the quadrangle was often set aside as a burial ground for the monks.
Monastic herb gardens soon expanded to include vegetables and fruit. The monasteries spread northward, bringing new agricultural techniques to the rural population and awakening their sympathy for Nature. There is a famous story about Abbot Wa-lahfried, who, from 838, was head of Rei-chenau Abbey on Lake Constance: "When the seeds sprout tender shoots, Walahfried fetches fresh water in a large vessel and carefully waters the tiny shoots from the cupped palm of his hand so that the seeds are not hurt by a sudden gush of water ..."
Abbot Walahfried was mainly concerned with questions of labour and harvesting. It was not until 1200 that the garden was reinvented as a place of relaxation and enjoyment. Beauty emerged as a central criterion: the visitor was to spend his time in a pleasurable manner. Albertus Magnus (c. 1200-1280) of Cologne, a wise and learned father of the church, was a passionate advocate of gardens, and much of his advice relating to their design is found on the present panel. Entitled The Little Garden of Paradise, it was executed some two hundred years later by an unknown Upper Rhenish master. According to the 13th-century sage, a garden should have "a raised sward, decked with pleasant flowers ... suitable for sitting ... and delightful repose". The trees were to stand well apart "for they may otherwise keep out the fresh breeze and thus impair our well-being". A "pleasure garden" should contain "a spring set in stone,... for its purity will be a source of much delectation".




A legend for every saint


The artist has filled the castle garden with holy personages. The largest figure is Mary, wearing her heavenly crown and looking down at a book. She has no throne, but sits on a cushion in front of, and therefore below, the terraced part of the lawn. Contemporary spectators attributed significance to the relative height at which a figure sat. Though Mary was the Queen of Heaven, she was also humble and modest: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."
Contemporaries of the Upper Rhenish master would have had little trouble naming the other women. They would not have identified them by their faces, however, to each of which the artist has lent the same gentle charm: small, very dark eyes, a small mouth with a spot of shadow under the lower lip.
Saints and other holy persons could be identified by the objects or activities attributed to them. St. Dorothy, for example, is shown with a basket. According to legend, she was asked on her way to a martyr's death to send flowers and fruits from heaven; she prayed before her execution, and immediately a boy appeared with the divine gift - in a basket. Here, beyond the grave, she picks her cherries herself.
A legend was attributed to every saint, so a painting of this kind would have been full of stories to a contemporary spectator. However, some figures may have been more difficult to identify than St. Dorothy. St. Barbara, seen here drawing water from a spring, is shown without her usual attributes: a tower and chalice. Apparently, the artist could not find a place for them in his garden scene. Those who were acquainted with her legend, however, knew that her bones could work miracles, bringing water to dried up rivers and ending droughts. In contrast to the verdant growth of the surrounding garden, the area around the well is dry and stony. A realist might infer that the grass around the well had been trodden down by the many people who came to draw water. However, a pious spectator would recognize the dry ground referred to in the legend, which the saint waters with a chained spoon to make it fertile.
The woman holding the medieval string intrument, a psaltery, for the child Jesus is probably St. Catherine of Alexandria. It was said that Mary and Jesus appeared to her in a dream. Touching her finger, Jesus had told her he was wedded to her through faith. On waking, she found a ring on her finger. According to medieval belief St. Catherine was closer to Jesus than any woman but Mary, which explains the position given to her by the artist.
Although the gospels make no reference to Jesus making music, medieval art often portrayed him as a musician. An illumination of c. 1300 shows him playing a violin, while an inscription reads: "Manifold joys Lord Jesus brings, to souls he is the sound of strings." Music was a sign of spiritual, or heavenly joy. The artist, unable to depict bliss by facial expression, chose a string instrument as a vehicle instead, a gesture understood by the contemporary spectator.


 

 



 

 

            
 



Red rose and white lily - flowers in praise of Mary


Like the string instrument, many details of the Little Garden of Paradise stand for something other than themselves. They are the signs and symbols of a pictorial language with which the majority of people in the Middle Ages were acquainted. Very few people could read at the time; in order to spread the faith, the church therefore needed a language of pictures, or, as we might call it today, a form of non-verbal communication.
Even the garden itself was a symbol, not merely the appropriate scene for a congregation of holy persons. Gardens were synonymous with paradise, presumably because of the Old Testament Garden of Eden. The unknown artist emphasizes the paradisial character of the garden by showing flowers in blossom which usually bloom in different seasons. He also avoids any sign of toil, to which Adam and Eve were condemned on their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
A paradisial scene with a wall would be interpreted as a hortus conclusus, an enclosed garden. Walls do not usually have a place in paradise, but this one symbolizes Mary's virginity, underlining the special status of "Our Blessed Lady"; for accord ing to Christian belief Mary conceived without penetration. This pictorial symbol, too, derives from the Old Testament, from an image in the Song of Solomon: "A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse ..."
Various superimposed layers of imagery interlace and merge in this painting; their independence is not painstakingly defined in the way we might wish it today. Thus paradise is represented not only by the garden but also by Mary herself: like paradise, where sexuality does not exist, Mary's immaculate conception places her in a permanently paradisial state. In a paean composed by the poet Conrad of Wiirzburg, who died in 1287, Mary is "a living paradise filled with many noble flowers".
The table situated in Mary's immediate proximity emphasizes, like the height at which she sits, the Queen of Heaven's modesty, her status as the "handmaid" of God's divine purpose. In practice, the stone-carved hexagonal tables found in many paintings of the time were used for picnics and board-games.
Various flowers also characterise the Holy Virgin. In several parts of Germany the primrose - seen at the right edge of the painting - is still known as the Himmels-schlussel, or "key to heaven"; for it was Mary who opened Man's door to heaven. The violets are another symbol of modesty, while the white lilies represent the Virgin's purity. The rose was a medieval symbol of the Holy Virgin and, indeed, of virginity in general; the branches with roses have no thorns.
The flowers in this garden would make up a veritable bouquet of virtues - gathered, of course, with the female spectators of the painting in mind.
These signs, allusions and symbols stand for something which eludes direct representation. Modern man has learned to distinguish clearly and coolly between the thing and the symbol. People 500 years ago saw one within the other: Mary was painted as a humble woman, an enclosed garden and a rose, her purity revered in the whiteness of the lily; thus God's history of salvation revealed itself through Nature. A painting of this kind was more than a theological treatise.

 

 

 




 

 

A tree stump stands for sinful humanity
 





How a sinless Madonna could possibly spring from a humanity burdened by original sin and expelled from paradise was a subject which gave rise to much racking of brains. The artist of the Little Garden of Paradise makes a contribution to the debate in the form of a tree stump from which grow two new shoots: which is as much as to say that even an old tree can bring forth new life.
To ensure spectators knew the tree stump stood for sinful humanity, the Upper Rhenish master painted a small devil next to it. To contend that devils, dead dragons or pollarded trees do not really belong in paradise would be to grant inappropriate weight to logic.
The fact that the three figures near the devil and dragon are male can be ascertained from the colour of their faces, which are darker in hue than those of the women. Apart from colour, however, their faces follow the same pattern as those of the women: men and women have the same eyes, the same mouths, and even the same tapering fingers.
Two of the three male figures are easily identified. The one wearing greaves and chain mail is Sir George who liberated a virginal princess from the power of a dragon. Paintings that show George doing battle with the dragon generally make the mythical beast enormous and threatening; here it is shrunk to little more than a trademark. The angel with the headdress and the beautiful wings is Michael. He it was who hurled devils into the abyss, one of whom sits, well-behaved, at his feet: dragons and devils are powerless in paradise.
The identity of the standing male figure remains obscure, with no hint of the artist's intention. If we look hard enough, however, we find a black bird just behind his knees. Black is the colour of death. Perhaps the panel was painted in memory of a young man who died. Its small format suggests it was intended for a private dwelling rather than a church. The tree around which the young man's arms are clasped appears to grow from his heart - an ancient symbol of eternal life.
On the other hand, it is possible that the young man was St. Oswald. In Oswald's legend a raven acts as a divine messenger, carrying away the pious man's right arm when he falls in battle against the heathens. Yet another story! The spectator of 1410 would have found the picture full of stones combining religious teaching and entertainment. As an act of veneration dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the painting itself became an object of reverence, bringing solace to the faithful. It showed a better world in store for those who left this vale of tears. The artistic quality of the painting, so fascinating to today's museum visitor, was undoubtedly admired at the time. In terms of the panel's significance as a religious work, however, it meant relatively little.



 

Woodpecker, goldfinch and waxwing










 

Bliss in the life hereafter was not the only subject of paintings like this. Besides the garden of paradise there were also Gardens of Love, celebrations of worldly happiness. These did not depict sensuality in a crude manner, but harked back to the Arcadia of heathen antiquity, itself closely related to the idea of paradise. The effect was to show heaven on earth, so to speak.
As the subject of religious art, the garden of paradise did not last more than a few decades. By the second half of the 15th century it had practically disappeared: a late blossom, embedded in a medieval language of symbols. The worldly Garden of Love, however, a more readily comprehensible topic, appeared again and again in a variety of different forms. Manet's Dejeuner sur Vherbe is a more recent example.
The Garden of Love was a literary topos before it found its way into painting. The most well-known example today is Boccaccio's Decameron, written in Florence some 60 years before the Little Garden of Paradise was painted in the region of the Upper Rhine. The setting of these works is remarkably similar: the young Florentines tell each other stories in a garden "surrounded by walls", in the middle of which is a "lawn of fine grass adorned with a thousand brightly coloured flowers", where water gushes from a little fountain, "gently splashing ... into a wonderfully clear well". Here men and women did not sit apart on their best behaviour, for all who were present "strolled together, weaving the loveliest wreathes of manifold sprigs" and telling each other erotic tales.
The French Romance of the Rose predates the Italian Decameron by over a century. It also sings love's joys and complaints, is set in a garden and, like Boccaccio's Decameron, was read widely in Europe by the educated elite of the day. In both books, feelings of happiness are accompanied by birdsong. In the Romance of the Rose we read: "Their song was comparable to that of the angels in heaven." And only three sentences later: "One was inclined to believe it was not birdsong at all but the voices of sea-sirens." Whether angels or sirens, divine messengers, or se-ductresses who were half beast, half human, whether Christian figures or those of antiquity, the example shows the essential ambiguity of all pictorial symbols at the time. Even spectators of a Christian garden of paradise would know that painted birds were there not only to sing God's praises.
The birds in the Little Garden of Paradise are rendered accurately. Zoologists have distinguished at least ten different species: great tit, oriole, bullfinch, chaffinch, robin, woodpecker, goldfinch, wax-wing, hoopoe and blue tit. Had he been concerned solely with angelic music, the artist might have painted the birds as schematically as the faces of his saints. But he evidently wished to emphasize their variety, just as he did with the plants. He wanted to show what he saw; he wanted to be exact. The plants testify to this, with some 20 identifiable species.
Exact zoological observation betrays an interest in natural science. This was new in a painting of c. 1410. While it is true that birds and flowers were frequently painted with some degree of accuracy, they had rarely been rendered with such a powerful inclination to catalogue empirical data. Medieval painting was usually dominated by religion. While this painting might appear to confirm the rule, it also illustrates a growing awareness of Nature; no longer mere adornment, the distinctive presence of a natural world is felt as strongly here as that of the holy figures. However, it was not until the next century that the first botanic gardens were created in Germany: at Leipzig in 1580, and at Heidelberg in 1597.
The discovery and scientific exploration of Nature were first steps on the long road to modernity. The Little Garden of Paradise lends visibility to that phase of intellectual history. However, the beauty of the painting also resides in the harmony, evidently still attainable, between religious and realistic views of the world: two types of experience which did not appear to present the dichotomy felt by Christians in the Western world today.

 

See also collection:

Paul, Jean & Herman Limburg

Robert Campin

Konrad Witz

Gherardo di Jacopo Starnina
 

 

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