Painting Paradise

The Art of the Garden, from the 1500s to the 1900s

Seven Couples in a Garden (from the Quintet of Nava'i) (1492/1615) by A Bukharan ArtistRoyal Collection Trust, UK

The first recorded gardens grew in Persia. The Ancient Greeks created the term ‘paradise’ from the Persian word for an enclosed garden, which influenced Greek descriptions of the Garden of Eden.

The Persian love of gardens was reflected in the high concentration of garden scenes in illustrated manuscripts. These provide the first truly comprehensive range of garden images of any kind in art.

Historical narratives, poems and legends all featured gardens, and every aspect of the garden was brought to life.

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (1615) by Jan Brueghel the ElderRoyal Collection Trust, UK

From the Middle Ages onwards, garden images also appeared in western European art, in manuscripts at first and later in other forms. These depictions tended to focus on the Garden of Eden.

The use of the garden to convey symbolic meaning became a deeply embedded practice in art.

Visions of Eden did not always adhere to the description in Genesis. This painting by Brueghel the Elder shows the classical myth of a Golden Age where all animals live in harmony.

Adam and Eve are relegated to the distant background.

Pleasure Garden with a Maze (1579/1584) by Lodewijk ToeputRoyal Collection Trust, UK

In the late 15th century a new concept of the garden began to emerge in Renaissance Europe, where fantasy and reality were closely linked.

Artists tended to use their imaginations rather than show existing gardens accurately.

Features from the medieval garden (the tunnel arbour, for example) were depicted in imagery of the sacred garden, but also now appeared in paintings of secular gardens.

Boys Among Apple Trees (1625/1675) by Attributed to Giulio RomanoRoyal Collection Trust, UK

The Renaissance preoccupation with classical ideals heralded a formal, geometric approach to garden design.

Motifs from antiquity were also popular, such as these cupids harmoniously picking apples.

The Seed-heads of Two Rushes, with Notes (1510/1515) by Leonardo da VinciRoyal Collection Trust, UK

The garden was not only a symbolic but also a practical space.

The 16th century saw the foundation of botanic gardens, the development of the science of botany and the birth of botanical illustration.

Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of plants, for example, are among the first modern botanical drawings ever made.

A Formal Garden: Three Ladies Surprised by a Gentleman (c.1676) by Ludolf de JonghRoyal Collection Trust, UK

From the 17th century, formal gardens grew ever more mathematical, showing dominion over nature, proclaiming power.

These private spaces were also utilised by royals, courtiers and the nobility to entertain and play.

A View of the Cascade, Bushy Park Water Gardens (c.1715) by Studio of Marco RicciRoyal Collection Trust, UK

The formal style of garden was full of exciting new features which engaged artists, like axial plans showcasing long vistas and 'parterres' (ornamental flower beds).

Water features such as cascades became very popular in the Baroque garden.

The Formal Garden (Early eighteenth century) by Lille Tapestry FactoryRoyal Collection Trust, UK

Design elements (such as the obelisk and fountain statue of Hercules in this tapestry) enriched the formal garden by their evocation of the classical past and also emphasised the planned geometry.

The formal garden architecture included balustrades, loggia and trellises.

The Sunflower Clock (c.1752) by Vincennes Porcelain FactoryRoyal Collection Trust, UK

Individual elements drawn from the garden, whether architectural or botanical, have at certain periods come to the fore and taken their place in the decorative arts of western Europe.

This highly ornate clock’s dial replicates the centre of a sunflower, a symbol of the Sun King, Louis XIV. His garden at Versailles was one of the most famous examples of a formal Baroque garden.

The Sunflower Clock was recently restored by Royal Collection conservators.

The Gardens at Kew (1759) by John Jacob SchalchRoyal Collection Trust, UK

The landscape garden was England’s greatest cultural export of the 18th century.

Topiary, symmetry and parterres fell out of fashion, and imitating natural views came to be seen as the ideal.

The Garden of the Deputy Ranger's Lodge, Windsor Great Park (1798) by Paul SandbyRoyal Collection Trust, UK

By the mid-18th century, the garden had become a means to express some of the main preoccupations of Enlightenment thought.

As well as other things, the garden now functioned as a public leisure space and a haven for contemplation.

Images of this new form of garden were crucial to how the rest of Europe perceived Britain, and to the strong sense of identity that came with the development of this new national style.

Floral Emblems, or, A Guide to the Language of Flowers (1831) by Henry PhillipsRoyal Collection Trust, UK

The Victorian period was the age of flowers. Nurture, rather than nature, became the dominant impetus once more.

The true product on display in the garden was modern horticultural expertise.

Chandelier (mid-Victorian) by Attributed to Josef and Ludwig LobmeyrRoyal Collection Trust, UK

During the 19th century, gardening became a popular British pastime and increasingly influenced interior design.

This chandelier's glass lilies demonstrate the exuberance of floral ornament in décor.

The chandelier has always hung in the Audience Chamber at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight – the private home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The Garden Party at Buckingham Palace (1897/1900) by Laurits Regner TuxenRoyal Collection Trust, UK

Stately garden parties were developed during Queen Victoria’s reign, but gardens of prestige no longer dominated imagery. Mass production saw gardens of all kinds appearing in publications as well as in art.

The first Garden Party at Buckingham Palace was held in 1887 to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. They continue to this day and have evolved into a way of recognising and rewarding public service.

'Of Gardens: an Essay' by Francis Bacon (1904) by Albert SangorskiRoyal Collection Trust, UK

This presentation copy of Francis Bacon’s 1625 essay 'Of Gardens' was made at the outset of the 20th century. For hundreds of years, the changing form and cultural role of the garden had inspired artists and craftsmen.

Credits: Story

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

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