In the Office of Readings, on the Feast of the Visitation, the first reading is from the Song of Songs. It seems to have been a common theme in late medieval art to portray Mary interpreted as the ‘Garden Enclosed’ as referred to in the Song of Songs. As someone who loves gardens I like the idea of the garden having a place in sacred art. (I am talking here of the garden grown for beauty, the ‘flower garden’ as it would be called here in the US).
I am not aware of this being a common subject for artists to paint today and one wonders why? The first answer that comes to mind, almost as a kneejerk response, is that genuine piety for Mary has declined and this is just one more casualty in the devotional lexicon.
It might be this, but also, it is very likely a reflection also of a different attitude to gardens and to man’s place in creation that is prevalent today and especially strong in the US (as I have described before).
Historically, the wilderness was seen the place of untamed nature which is the home of the devil. Christ went to meet him there for 40 days and when monks and hermits went out to the desert, it was not so much as we might think today, to escape the city, but rather to engage in spiritual battle in the wilderness, the lair of the enemy. In the painting below by the Flemish artist Robert Campin (scroll down to the second last), we see the father of monasticism, Anthony Abbot (with St Catherin of Siena, John the Baptist and, I think, St Barbara), now resting in the garden having completed, one presumes, his spiritual battles in the Egyptian wilderness.
Today, however, the beauty of nature as wilderness is often seen as a higher beauty of nature cultivated. Here in the US where people particularly prize their national parks as places of wilderness unaffected by man. They are wonderful places to visit and very well run. but I am always struck by the fact that they do not preserve the beauty of farmed land. In the UK, where I come from there is no part of the land, as far as I am aware, that is not man-affected, yet I miss the beauty of its countryside very much. Our national parks, such as the Lake District, (Read More)