Late Medieval Enclosed Gardens of the Low Countries
Lecture by Barbara Baert
Given at Das Internationale Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie, on May 13, 2015
In the late Middle Ages and Early Modernity an artistic phenomenon emerged in a feminine religious context, particularly in the Low Countries and the Rhineland: the so-called Enclosed Gardens. These cabinets comprise handmade evocations of paradise and gardens built around sculptures and relics. What makes these objects so fascinating is that they are composed of remnants and “récyclage”, using materials and techniques such as pearls, papier-mâché, paperolles, wax seals, and little embroideries and other textile handwork, sometimes mixed with inserted miniatures, sculptures of wood and clay, and moreover several kinds of relics. They are made from mixed media in ‘low’ materials that engulf the viewer within a unique artistic horticulture. Further, these objects are hybrids that challenge our ideas and terminology about devotional material culture. Indeed, Enclosed Gardens refer to reliquary boxes with the effect of devotional Kunstkammers, yet they also function as small altarpieces. Although the phenomenon has been recognized in scholarship vis-à-vis its gendered context (by, for example, Paul Vandenbroeck and Jeffrey Hamburger), it has not yet been approached in relation to the ‘agency of media and things’. In this lecture, Barbara Baert discusses the Enclosed Gardens from several points of view: as the symbolisation of Paradise and the mystical union, as a sanctuary for interiorisation, as a sublimation of the sensorium (particularly smell), as manifestation of the horticultural making processes and pyscho-energetics, and finally in defence of a new kind of hermeneutics based on the ideas of the web and the nest.