Painting Paradise: The art of the garden
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London Until 11 October 2015
Whether a sacred sanctuary, a place for scientific study, a haven for the solitary thinker or a space for pure enjoyment and delight, gardens are where mankind and nature meet. A new exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace explores the many ways in which the garden has been celebrated in art through over 150 paintings, drawings, books, manuscripts and decorative arts from the Royal Collection, including some of the earliest and rarest surviving records of gardens and plants.
From spectacular paintings of epic royal landscapes to jewel-like manuscripts and delicate botanical studies, Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden reveals the changing character of the garden and its enduring appeal for artists from the 16th to the early 20th century, including Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn and Carl Fabergé.
The idea of an earthly paradise – an enclosed space with orchards, flowing water, shade and shelter – can be traced back to Persia in the 6th century BCE. The painted miniature Seven Couples in a Garden, c.1510, from the earliest illustrated Islamic manuscript in the Royal Collection, shows a beautiful Persian garden with an octagonal pool, plane and cypress trees, and elaborately tiled pavilions laid with floral carpets.
Until the 16th century, gardens in paintings and manuscripts remained largely those of the imagination. Henry VIII’s Great Garden at Whitehall Palace, seen in the background of the painting The Family of Henry VIII, c.1545, is the first real garden recorded in British art. By 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.
Lodewijk Toeput (Pozzoserrato), Pleasure Garden with a Maze, c. 1579-84