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March 17, 2020
By Chelsea Reed
Imagine colorful blossoms... Nature and architecture… Canvas and planting… All balanced in perfect harmony. Art and gardening are both great examples of people expressing the joys of life. It’s no surprise then that the two activities are a natural fit together. Gardens have long been a subject of art and literature in Western Europe. The master artists Monet and Renoir painted many garden scenes. And the classic 1911 novel “The Secret Garden” is a favorite to see on today’s big screen.
This brings up the burning question...do gardens in artwork hide deep secrets for us to uncover?
Let’s dig into the art history of gardens to find out!
Botanical symbolism in art is as old and mysterious as the flower language. Flowers were common imagery in ancient Greek and Roman art. Their mythological meanings were later adapted to European Christian artwork. Garden language in art was very popular in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Carnations, for example, represented love in ancient Greece and Western Europe. The beech tree, once a symbol of the Roman pantheon, became associated with Christ instead. Indeed, the meaning of plants in European artwork is a complex language. It’s helpful to do some research ahead of time to appreciate the piece you are looking at. The Master painter Hieronymous Bosch’s triptych art is an excellent example of this.
Gardens were very popular in Western European culture. They provided healthy spaces for people to enjoy and get away from the stresses of court life and crowded cities. Western societies were familiar with the biblical Garden of Eden. Concepts of paradise, innocence, and pursuing happiness were associated with their own gardens. These beautiful corners of the world were easy subjects for artists to paint.
Garden inspired artwork in the Middle Ages was not exclusive to religious art. It was a way of life. Medieval herbalists carefully documented pictures of flowers and plants into their art books. Each one had its own meanings and medicinal uses. The poisonous hemlock symbolized evil, but the salve of a clover was a life saver for a snake bite patient. This knowledge was passed down from the ancient writings of Pliny and other historians. Knowing the purpose of each flower could mean life and death for the patient!
As you can see, garden plants in art symbolized all sorts of meanings for complex reasons. In some cases, they even depicted the eternal. But sometimes they also represented the beauty in the present. This was especially important in the 19th Century Impressionism movement. Artists like Monet, Renoir and Pissarro worked hard to capture the fleeting beauty of the garden. Renoir even painted a picture of Monet painting in his own garden!
Of course, the results of the Impressionist Movement were fabulous. Stunning gardens were captured in art to be enjoyed long after the blooms faded. Many artists were inspired to paint floral impressions, and the tradition continues today. Karen Schafers has gorgeous impressionistic florals at Seaside Art Gallery. More examples include Karen Chamblin and Gregory Kalvalec.
Impressionism not your thing? No worries! Garden art is available today in a variety of styles, such as etchings and realism. Browse through Seaside Art Gallery online today. You can see floral artwork from artists like Rebecca Latham, Stephan Whittle, and more. Who knows? You may even find your own secret garden to bring home!
Chelsea Reed is a copywriter who writes online content, articles, blogs, and websites from her base in North Carolina.
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