EARTHLY PARADISES IN EAST AND WEST at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden

Even if you aren’t that interested in medieval gardens, do visit the RMO’s current exhibition “Earthly paradises in East and West”. You might get inspired. Top of my wanna-have-list since visiting: a “chante-pleur”!

The exhibition is located on the museum’s first floor. On entering, start your visit clock-wise – left. The first rooms introduce you to herb gardens. Here are herbs with a list of what they might help cure and visitors can smell them. You will also learn which plants were grown in the secret garden – and why.

The first few rooms of the exhibition follow the lay-out of many medieval gardens: herbs and flowers, vegetable and fruit. Followed by the garden as status-symbol, as well as ‘the garden indoors’ – and more. Fascinating to learn that garden-designs in East and West were practically identical.

Practical too: plots were laid out in a direction so gardeners did not suffer too much from the sun. Very interesting: earthenware watering cans and wooden tools, including spades with just a small metal rim. All biodegradable – so much better than all our plastic ware!

From rooms on herbs, fruits, vegetables, bees and tools, to aristocratic garden, fields and woods. Pleasure grounds used to impress and show off. Imagine having all your pots decorated with a rim like the battlements adorning your castle!

The exhibition goes into hunting too. Archaeologists unearthed a nearly complete falconry hood – hundreds of years old. And what to think of the dog-collar sporting “Does not Bite”. From the size of the collar: I wouldn’t even come near that dog!

While admiring all exhibits, don’t forget to also look at the wonderful images in the windows. There are enlarged Indian miniatures, Persian ones, images from manuscripts: dazzling!

Too hot, too cold, lousy weather? Bring the garden indoors by hanging mille-fleure tapestries on the walls against droughts, or by use exquisite tiles and a lot of colours including green. No need to tell you to use appropriately decorated tableware and that picnicking is no recent invention.

Exhibition space is dedicated to heavenly and earthly love as well. Think of the medieval “Roman de la Rose”, Mary in an enclosed garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, unicorns and more.

As the museum states: “The exhibition naturally shows you how flowers and plants grew in medieval gardens, exhibiting millefleur and paradise carpets, herbaria with dried plants, illuminated books with ideal gardens and Oriental tiles with floral motifs. But you will also find medieval tools, a watering can found in an archaeological dig, seeds and feathers, falcon hoods, chess-pieces, medicine jars, and musical instruments. In a sunny, colourful design with summer houses and birdsong you are able to smell herbs and flowers, you can design your own garden, and browse (digitally) through medieval books with scenes of gardens. Rare paintings, prints and miniatures introduce viewers to images including a delightful Madonna surrounded by roses, a Persian prince near a fountain, and a robust Italian gardener.”     Kate Deni    15th May 2019

Earthly Paradises in East and West continues until 1st September 2019