Explore Renaissance gardens and their stories—from royal to humble, from scandalous to virtuous—in a widely-ranging exhibition of manuscript illumination.
Whether connected to grandiose villas or common kitchens, gardens in the Renaissance (about 1400–1600) were planted and treasured by people in all levels of society. Some cultivated gardens for the display and study of beautiful and rare plants, while others did so for sustenance. Manuscript artists depicted gardens in a variety of texts, and their illustrations attest to the Renaissance spirit for the careful study of the natural world. In a society then dominated by the church, gardens were also integral to a Christian visual tradition, from the paradise of Eden to the enclosed green spaces associated with Mary and Christ. Gardens are cyclical and impermanent; most planted during the Renaissance have changed or been lost. The objects in this exhibition offer a glimpse into how people at the time pictured, used, and enjoyed these idyllic green spaces.
The exhibition features over 20 manuscript illuminations, a painting, a drawing and a photograph from the Getty Museum's permanent collection, as well as loaned works from the Getty Research Institute and private collectors James E. and Elizabeth J. Ferrell.
In this image of Bathsheba bathing in a fountain, her sensuous nude figure seduces not only King David at the palace window but likely also the patron of the manuscript that contained this leaf, King Louis XII of France (ruled 1498–1515). The biblical story that inspired this image does not mention a garden, but artists often placed Bathsheba in one because a garden was considered both a private space and a place of temptation. Louis XII employed Italian engineers to redesign gardens at his court, making them conform to the Renaissance principle of symmetry between palace and garden. In the illumination, the artist differentiates spaces for the planting of herbs, roses, and a citrus grove, all aspects one would expect to encounter in a royal garden.