Mys­tery in royal gar­den show

Jan Pa­tience on an ex­hi­bi­tion of great gar­dens de­picted in art

The Herald - Arts - - VISUAL ART - Paint­ing Par­adise: The Art of the Gar­den, The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holy­rood­house, Ed­in­burgh un­til Fe­bru­ary 19, 2017 www.roy­al­col­lec­ made a Royal Aca­demi­cian in 1976 (the first woman ever to be elected to both in­sti­tu­tions). In 2001 she b

AGARDEN, by its very na­ture, is an ar­ti­fi­cial con­struct: an en­closed space in which na­ture is cor­ralled and tended by a hu­man hand. Art and gar­dens go hand-in-hand, as do gar­dens and power. Stella Rem­ing­ton, cu­ra­tor of paint­ings at the Royal Col­lec­tion, and guid­ing hand be­hind Paint­ing Par­adise: The Art of the Gar­den, at The Queen’s Gallery in Ed­in­burgh, says there were three over­ar­ch­ing fac­tors be­hind every great gar­den in his­tory.

“Gar­dens were de­signed to be medic­i­nal, for plea­sure and they were cre­ated to im­press,” she ex­plains. “This ex­hi­bi­tion sets out to tell the story of the art of the gar­den.”

Recre­at­ing par­adise is the key fac­tor which guides artists’ de­pic­tion of gar­dens down the cen­turies. Paint­ing Par­adise ex­plores the many and var­ied ways in which the gar­den has been cel­e­brated in art and in­cludes 75 paint­ings, draw­ings, books, manuscripts and dec­o­ra­tive arts from the Royal Col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing some of the ear­li­est and rarest sur­viv­ing records of gar­dens and plants.

The earthly par­adise idea has been strong since the ear­li­est im­ages of the Per­sian gar­den started to reach Europe through the many forms of Is­lamic art that cel­e­brated the gar­den from the 11th to the 14th cen­turies. These vivid snap­shots into life for the high­est ech­e­lons of so­ci­ety show an en­closed space with or­chards, flow­ing wa­ter, shade and shel­ter and can be traced back to Per­sia in the 6th cen­tury BC.

Work re­moved from fo­lios deep within the Royal Col­lec­tion for an out­ing to Ed­in­burgh in­cludes the ex­quis­ite painted minia­ture Seven Cou­ples in a Gar­den, c.1510. One of the ear­li­est il­lus­trated Is­lamic man­u­script in the Col­lec­tion, it shows a beau­ti­ful Per­sian gar­den with an oc­tag­o­nal pool, plane and cy­press trees, and elab­o­rately tiled pav­il­ions laid with flo­ral car­pets.

The de­tail in this work is in­fin­i­tes­i­mal yet laden with trea­sure. The gar­den is alive with birds, in­clud­ing nightin­gales (much beloved of Per­sian po­ets), par­rots, song­birds, doves, heron, egrets and ducks.

Also on show are paint­ings of land­scapes and jewel-like manuscripts, as well as del­i­cate botan­i­cal stud­ies. The chang­ing char­ac­ter of the gar­den is writ large. What stands out is its en­dur­ing ap­peal for artists from the 16th to the early 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing Leonardo da Vinci, Rem­brandt van Rijn, Sir Ed­win Land­seer and Thomas Gains­bor­ough.

Un­til the six­teenth cen­tury, gar­dens in paint­ings and manuscripts were con­jured up by the artist’s imag­i­na­tion. By the time of the Re­nais­sance, gar­dens had be­come sta­tus sym­bols to be em­ployed in royal pro­pa­ganda.

The wealth of a gar­den’s owner could be demon­strated through elab­o­rate hor­ti­cul­tural fea­tures such as obelisks, per­go­las, knot de­signs and top­i­ary. Although in the paint­ing Plea­sure Gar­den with a Maze by Lodewijk Toeput (Poz­zoser­rato), c.1579–84, the wa­ter labyrinth is the artist’s in­ven­tion, it is in­spired by con­tem­po­rary de­scrip­tions of 16th-cen­tury Ital­ian for­mal gar­dens.

“The USP of this ex­hi­bi­tion is the un­usual range of ob­jets d’art and paint­ings,” says Stella Rem­ing­ton. “Very few in­sti­tu­tions could tell the story in the way the Royal Col­lec­tion can. That is a real bonus.”

She also ad­mits that hav­ing to whit­tle the se­lec­tion down to 75 ob­jects has been a tricky task. “It was very dif­fi­cult; par­tic­u­larly in the dec­o­ra­tive arts. We tried to in­clude the best ob­jects.”

The six­teenth and early seven­teenth cen­turies saw the birth of botan­i­cal il­lus­tra­tion, flo­ri­le­gia (flower books) and still-life paint­ing. Leonardo da Vinci was the first artist to pro­duce true botan­i­cal stud­ies, and the ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes two ex­quis­ite ex­am­ples by the artist.

There is also botan­i­cal work on show with an Ed­in­burgh link by cal­lig­ra­pher and minia­tur­ist Es­ther Inglis (15711624). The daugh­ter of Huguenot refugees who fled from France to Ed­in­burgh to es­cape per­se­cu­tion, she pro­duced a se­ries which fea­ture dec­o­rated French verse em­bel­lished with water­colour paint­ings of na­tive species, such as the hum­ble but­ter­cup.

A beau­ti­ful minia­ture water­colour fea­tur­ing a but­ter­cup made for Henry, Prince of Wales, el­dest son on James I and Anne of Den­mark in 1607 is one of the stars of this show.

When asked to se­lect a favourites, Ms Rem­ing­ton picks out A Young Man Seated Un­der a Tree. This tiny water­colour (12.4x8.9cm) was painted by Isaac Oliver c.1590–95. It de­picts a well-dressed young man in black and gold dou­blet, long leather boots, black broad-brimmed hat and lace-edged boot hose, lean­ing pen­sively against a tree. There’s a lav­ish Tu­dor knot gar­den in the back­ground and a loved-up cou­ple strolling along a neat path.

“So much work has been put into try­ing to place this lovelorn youth,” she says. “But we have not been able to iden­tify him yet. He is sur­rounded my for­get-me-nots and his gloves have been set down by his side. The mes­sage is, ‘I am lonely. Come join me.’

“One day some­one will come up with the an­swer to the mys­tery of who is in man in one of the finest Tu­dor minia­tures.”

Art lovers, there’s a gar­den of earthly de­lights wait­ing for you at the Queen’s Gallery.

A Young Man Seated Un­der a Tree by Isaac Oliver will be dis­played at the Paint­ing Par­adise ex­hi­bi­tion at Queen’s Gallery, Ed­in­burgh Pic­ture: Royal Col­lec­tion Trust/Her Majesty the Queen

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