Oddly enough, I remembered this watercolor as "Lady Pole in Her Library." Nope, the artist was Thomas Pole, an American transplant to Bristol, England, a doctor and Quaker preacher—no titled lady involved. Still, you know me: it's all about using images to prompt story ideas. And quiet as it is, In the Library has some suggestive clues.
Picturing a World
As a follow-up to my previous post about a potted-plant ornament, here's a detail from a portrait of Henry VIII and his family by an unknown painter of the British School. Glimpses of gardens through doorways and windows always lure me, but maybe you'll be more drawn to the monkey, the crewcut, or the man purse!
Surfing the web, I've just come across this painting of a young girl by Rotius. The costume is worth studying; but with my interest in garden history, what struck me most was the figurine on a stake in the potted carnations. It reminds me of Tudor heraldic figures on poles, but I've never seen a miniature decoration like this. Does anybody know anything about such them?
Blog post alert: My interest in gardening history keeps me on the lookout for humble gardens, flower boxes, and pots grown in windows. In this image, other writers might take note of the laundry, the broken window panes, the proximity of the ramshackle building to the wall. And this is just a detail! For the full image and many more, see John Thomas Smith's Antient Topography at the ever rich Spitalfields Life.
On my walk yesterday, I talked with a friend—outdoors at six feet apart—who is planning to celebrate Christmas next July when her family can gather safely. Then this morning while I was mulling blog topics, I happened across Miss Jasper's Garden illustrated by one of my artists, N. M. Bodecker. Perfect. In this time of pandemic, why not a momentary break to July at Christmas?
An edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett's Secret Garden illustrated by Inga Moore has been my bedtime reading for the last few days of the presidential campaign and should get me through to tomorrow's aftermath. It's lovely. I'm not sure when I last read the novel—maybe as much as thirty years ago when Ruth Sanderson's beautiful edition was published. When I opened this book, I knew I would have adored it as a child and was going to enjoy it now. In my conceit as a garden historian, though, I thought its illustrations of the Misselthwaite grounds were a bit over the top—much too complicated and big to be maintained by the one gardener I remembered from the story. Well, I was wrong.
A terrific post, Mapping the 16th century garden, at The Gardens Trust's blog, pointed out the trees on the 1588 map of Luca in Braun and Hogenberg's Civitates Orbis Terrarum. Trees planted along the ramparts of a walled city—like a boulevard! Characters could stroll in peacetime. Could soldiers take cover during hand-to-hand fighting if the wall were overtopped by an invading army? For historical fiction, further investigation is called for; for fantasy, imagination. Meanwhile, a little moment of research rapture.
Howzzibout an angel on Sunday while we ignore all the ghastly news? With those gorgeous wings and the sumptuous brocade cope, I can't resist including him/her (them?) in my detail of a bas-de-page illumination in the Spinola Hours. And I like the illustration of typical rectangular ornamental beds and recognizable flowers, not to mention the fence and its built-in table. But it's the potted plants that interest me at the moment: Last night with a freeze predicted, I brought in potted plants and their saucers from the porch. I keep an eye out for potted plants in medieval and Renaissance paintings. This is the first one I can remember that shows a saucer. Such a useful bit of crockery! If you ask me, its history needs investigating.
Uh-oh, a couple of weeks ago, I dreamed I was inside a crossword puzzle. The dream is hard to remember clearly, much less describe (more surreal that an Alice-in-Wonderland card game); but the upshot was that the next morning I quit doing puzzles, cold. Now, as I finish my breakfast cup of tea, I'm reading Helen Gammack's Kitchen Garden Estate (2012) instead. It's perfect. Paper that's a delight to feel, many illustrations, and short, information-packed discussions of a wide array of gardening practices for raising edible and medicinal plants.
I think we can all agree that one of the saddest things about the current pandemic is the way it has forced children into isolation. Worse things than being cheated of graduation exercises can happen to teenagers; but for younger children to be cheated of grandparents and playmates? That's worrisome for their psychological future. Strange how we bring our preoccupations to looking at images. I think I would always have loved the way this little girl, held in by the fence, looks out at us. At another time, I might have related it to feminist concerns or formalist art-history observations on Morisot's technique. Now it seems somehow emblematic of summer 2020, even for the privileged few. Beautiful, potent, rueful.
Image via Art and Artists.