Bryan C. Keene and Alexandra Kaczenski of the Getty Museum’s Manuscripts Department have spent the last few years preparing for an exhibition and publication titled Sacred Landscapes: Nature in Renaissance Manuscripts that aims to examine representations of “green spaces” such as gardens, vistas, and their relation to the divine.
In particular, Bryan and Alexandra focus on the ways in which artists during the European Middle Ages and Renaissance embedded the pages of illuminated manuscripts with depictions of the natural world so that nature could guide prayer, chant, and meditation.
For Bryan, this project represents a continuation of his interest in sacred gardens that began with his graduate work on the garden imagery that influenced Botticelli’s Agony in the Garden painting. In 2013 he curated the exhibition and authored the accompanying book Gardens of the Renaissance.
For Alexandra, interest in this subject stems from her scholarly focus on Flemish manuscripts and their relation to Flemish landscape paintings. She brought to the project a complementary interest in issues of environmental and landscape destruction, which also were themes of the exhibition and publication.
Though floral and nature studies of the Renaissance and Early Modern periods have been extensively investigated—the scientific notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, for example, are well documented—this exhibition turns its focus on landscape and the divine. Curatorial research has shed new light on subjects such as the seemingly “scattered” floral arrangements represented within the pages of these books and their relationship to humoral theory and religion. Bryan adds, “The tension that we find in these borders is, on the one hand, intricately rendered leaf and petal structures of plants or flowers, and on the other, hidden whimsical elements, all of which combine to create a rich tapestry of meaning, both symbolic and scientific. Alex and I will continue to explore the potential meaning within this botanical and arboreal chaos.”
Sacred Landscapes opens on October 10, 2017, at the Getty Museum, where it complements the exhibition Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice. The exhibition catalog is available online now.
For further online reading about the medieval landscape, Bryan and Alexandra suggest reading a previous Iris post about Renaissance gardens or the blogs The Medieval Garden Enclosed and In Season from the team at the Met Cloisters.