Thursday, May 7, 2020

Springtime! Roses & The Madonna in a Symbolic Garden

Giovanni di Paolo (Italian (Sienese), about 1399–1482) 1442 Madonna of Humility surrounded by a hedge of thorny Roses. Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

Symbolism of The Roses

The Virgin's sitting within an enclosed garden lined with Roses, suggests metaphorical associations with the paradise bower of the Song of Songs. The theme of the Virgin in a garden can be found in the Biblical book Song of Solomon 2:2:  "I am the Rose of Sharon, The lily of the valleys. As a lily among the thistles..."

The Biblical book of  Ecclesiasticus 24:14, also refers to Roses & palm trees (with which the virgin is sometimes associated): "I have grown tall as a palm in En-Gedi, As the Rose bushes of Jericho." Sometimes Mary was called "The Rose of Jericho."

The Virgin Mary is called a "Rose without thorns," because she was exempt from Original Sin.

In Renaissance art, a garland of Roses is often an allusion to the Rosary of the Virgin.

The Glastonbury or Christmas Rose is both the symbol for the Virgin Mary & for the Infant Jesus.  It is said that the Glastonbury Rose is an exquisite flower but it also bears the sharpest of thorns, like those that were plaited into Jesus's crucifixion crown. This Rose, reportedly blooms just before January 6, the Christian Feast of Epiphany.

Illustrated manuscripts & early depictions of landscapes in portrayals of Biblical gardens give us a glimpse of gardens familiar & imagined during those periods. The thorns on the Rose bushes are meant to ward off anyone trying to get to Mary. The theme of the Virgin in a small, safe, enclosed garden can be found in the Biblical  Solomon 4:12: "A garden locked is my sister, my bride, A rock garden locked, a spring sealed up."

Mary was often depicted as a symbol of wisdom, & she was represented in many paintings with an open book. The Biblical book of Ecclesiasticus 24:14, also refers to roses & palm trees (with which the virgin is sometimes associated): I have grown tall as a palm in En-Gedi, As the rose bushes of Jericho. Sometimes Mary was called "The Rose of Jericho."

In Catholic symbolism, the red Rose is a symbol of Martyrdom, while the white Rose is a symbol of purity since the earliest years of the Church.  In the Christian religion, like the cross, the Rose can have paradoxical meanings. It is at once a symbol of purity & a symbol of passion, heavenly perfection & earthly passion; virginity & fertility; death & life.

After the fall of Rome, medieval Europe (500-1500 AD) was in transition. Rulers were fighting wars against rival nobles, & Christians were launching crusades against Muslims. Castles & monasteries were built defensively high on hills or mountains & walls were erected to protect against invaders. Gardens often were hedged to protect not only against invading enemies but also against interlopers, thieves, unwelcome visitors, & marauding livestock & wild animals.

During this period in art, the Virgin is often depicted in a small, enclosed garden. The spot is sealed off from the larger landscape by a monastery or castle wall. Mary is allegorically represented as a fortress. From a practical perspective, for the medieval woman, the enclosed garden was designed to prove & maintain her loyalty to her entitled spouse. Purity of the bloodlines was a great societal concern for the medieval noble husband. When kings & lords left home to go to battle, they wanted to feel assured; that their wives remained inaccessible to rapists or suitors ot temptation.

Monasteries also followed this layout, & there the gardens there are known as cloister gardens from Latin claustrum, "enclosure" & were called "hortus conclusus." With the number of monasteries at their highest during Europe's medieval period, Christain devotion to Mary popularized these gardens.

Mary was often depicted as a symbol of wisdom, & she was represented in many paintings with an open book. The Biblical book of  Ecclesiasticus 24:14, also refers to roses & palm trees (with which the virgin is sometimes associated):I have grown tall as a palm in En-Gedi, As the rose bushes of Jericho. Sometimes Mary was called "The Rose of Jericho."