UNKNOWN MASTER, German
(active in 1410s in the Upper Rhineland)

The Garden of Eden

c. 1410
Tempera on wood, 26 x 33 cm
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt

In the legendary world of a multicoloured garden surrounded by a wall the Virgin, the Child Jesus, three holy women and three holy men have met. This enclosed garden (hortus conclusus) is the symbol of the Virgin's purity, with its peaceful mood, its protected area, its fruits and flowers, but the serpentine intertwinement of the two trunks of the trees on the left also reminds us of the Garden of Eden, the scene of the happy life of the first human couple. Even more does the picture intend to evoke the ancient, original harmony of the universe, of divine, human, animal and vegetable worlds, where sin and evil were present only in a latent, harmless form. The Satan-monkey is squatting helplessly at St Michael's feet, while St George's dragon, not at all awe-inspiring, seems to be basking in the sun, turning his belly upwards.

The patron who commissioned the picture may have seen his own ornamental garden in the flowers, herbs, birds, butterflies and dragonflies, all represented with scientific exactness. However, this true-to-life interpretation, in a manner characteristic of the International Gothic style, is restricted only to certain minor motifs. The garden, the table, the fountain and the musical instrument are depicted from a different angle and are seen from above and thus they are not included in the plane of the picture; the figures are airily light and the forms do not cast shadows. Like patterns on a carpet the details are rather close to one another and are represented in a two-dimensional way. The forms of the world of humans, of the vegetation and of objects are harmoniously fitted to one another. The crowns are golden garlands of flowers, the left arm of St Cecilia holds a psaltery and the outlines of her instrument form a single vigorous arch of mirrored symmetry, and the parallel lines of grasses appear to be growing from the strings of the psaltery.