Monday, June 6, 2016

14C Euro Garden - Flowery Mead on an Italian Fresco


Cycle of frescos of the 12 labors of the months Location Trento, IItaly, Castello del Buonconsiglio (Bishops Castle), Torre del'Aquila (Tower of the eagle) Master Wenceslas of Bohemia 1397-1400



Detail Cycle of frescos of the 12 labors of the months Location Trento, IItaly, Castello del Buonconsiglio (Bishops Castle), Torre del'Aquila (Tower of the eagle) Master Wenceslas of Bohemia 1397-1400



Detail Cycle of frescos of the 12 labors of the months Location Trento, IItaly, Castello del Buonconsiglio (Bishops Castle), Torre del'Aquila (Tower of the eagle) Master Wenceslas of Bohemia 1397-1400

May is the month between winter & summer. Fields & vegetable gardens have been prepared & sown. Nature has not yet grown the plants & crops large enough to need the labors of summer garden and agricultural work.  The medieval scene during the month of May is portrayed on this fresco as occupied by the pastimes of the wealthy classes. Young noblemen & ladies, aristocratic couples & groups socialize in flowery mead in park-lands above the castle & church.

Albertus Magnus (c 1200-1280), a German Dominican friar & a Catholic bishop, was a great admirer of lawns & flowery meads "For the sight is in now way so pleasantly refreshed as by fine and close grass kept short." Most writers recommend digging out the original 'waste' plants, killing the seeds in the soil by flooding with boiling water, then laying out the lawn with curves laid in and pounded well. Another writer recommended mowing them twice a year; lawn mowing would have been done with scythes or primitive shears.

A Mead is a medieval garden designed to imitate a small meadow. A Flowery Mead is a medieval name for a lawn rich in wild flowers. A flowery mead is one of the essential components of a medieval garden. The flowery mead depicted here is not within a distinct, geometric, larger garden. Here the flowery meads are actually large meadows. 

Fourteenth century poet Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) in his Decameron of 1348 painted a vivid picture of what a villa & garden of a wealthy Florentine was like. The Cocharelli Manuscript from the late 14C shows members of the nobility standing beside a marble fountain in a garden planted with figs, oranges, pomegranates and grape vines resembling Boccacio’s description "in the midst of the garden a lawn of very fine grass, so green it seemed nearly black, colored with perhaps a thousand kind of flowers……shut in with very green citrus and orange trees bearing, at the same time, both ripe fruit and young fruit and flowers so that they pleased the sense of smell as well as charmed the eyes with shade." This description echos the tapestries of this period…known as the mille fleurs or thousands of flowers.

The Unicorn in Captivity (from the Unicorn Tapestries) 1495-1505 South Netherlandish Met acc. # 37.80.6

The Metropolitan Museum of Art suggests that Unicorn in Captivity may represent the beloved tamed. The animal is tethered to a tree & constrained by a fence; but the chain is not secure & the fence is low enough to leap over. The unicorn could escape if he wished, but his confinement seems to be a happy one, to which the ripe, seed-laden pomegranates in the tree—a medieval symbol of fertility & marriage—testify. The red stains on his flank do not appear to be blood, as there are no visible wounds like those in the hunting series; rather, they might represent juice dripping from the bursting pomegranates above. Many of the other plants represented here, such as wild orchid, bistort, & thistle, echo a theme of marriage & procreation, as they were acclaimed in the Middle Ages as fertility aids for both men and women. Even the little frog, nestled among the violets at the lower right, was cited by medieval writers for its noisy mating.


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