During the Late Middle Ages a unique type of ‘mixed media’ recycled and remnant art arose in houses of religious women in the Low Countries: enclosed gardens. They date from the time of Emperor Charles V and are unique examples of ‘anonymous’ female art, devotion and spirituality. A hortus conclusus (or enclosed garden) represents an ideal, paradisiacal world. Enclosed Gardens are retables, sometimes with painted side panels, the central section filled not only with narrative sculpture, but also with all sorts of trinkets and hand-worked textiles.Adornments include relics, wax medallions, gemstones set in silver, pilgrimage souvenirs, parchment banderoles, flowers made from textiles with silk thread, semi-precious stones, pearls and quilling (a decorative technique using rolled paper). The ensemble is an impressive and one-of-a-kind display and presents as an intoxicating garden. The sixteenth-century horti conclusi of the Mechelen Hospital sisters are recognized Masterpieces and are extremely rare, not alone at a Belgian but even at a global level. They are of international significance as they provide evidence of devotion and spirituality in convent communities in the Southern Netherlands in the sixteenth century. They are an extraordinary tangible expression of a devotional tradition. The highly individual visual language of the enclosed gardens contributes to our understanding of what life was like in cloistered communities. They testify to a cultural identity closely linked with mystical traditions allowing us to enter a lost world very much part of the culture of the Southern Netherlands. This book is the first full survey of the enclosed gardens and is the result of year-long academic research.
Lieve Watteeuw (illuminare) is lecturing in the Art History and the History Department at KU Leuven (Technology and Laboratory Methods, Illuminated Manuscripts & Codicology) and is library heritage researcher in the Faculty of Theology.
Hannah Iterbeke is currently working as a Collection Manager at the Museum Hof van Busleyden (Mechelen, Belgium).