Black and white flora

This week we are back blogging, after  long and thought-filled summer recess. With this post we return to the core of the esterni aesthetic, back to the inspiration drawn from fine art, design and the expanded notion of gardens as spaces of imagination, where, in Tom Stuart-Smith's words "different processes apply". The current exhibition at the British Museum on German Romantic prints, was an impulse visit. I have always been drawn to the poetry and craftsmanship of the images, and their interpretation of  landscape and the sublime in nature, long before esterni came into being.

The images of Carl Wilhelm Kolbe, which he termed "vegetable sheets",  illustrate  how the art context can provide eclectic and unusual imaginative links and inspiration for secret, private, gardens.

Here is an idealised version of nature, where light and dark, scale and detail mesh with the human form and spirit.

The prints and drawings on display capture beautiful, poetic scenes, exploring landscapes and wildlife to heroes and folktales. Romantic artists took inspiration from earlier artists, including Albrecht Dürer and Raphael.

The image below is titled "I too was in Arcadia". The text in the museum relates two opposing interpretations of the Latin "Et in Arcadia ego": the positive, 'I too have visited this Eden', as in the work below. The original interpretation of the Latin, however, was known to be words pronounced by Death, signifying ' I am [present] even in Arcadia', a memento mori from earlier times.

While it is interesting to speculate on which interpretation to ascribe to this, the most accomplished print produced by Kolbe,  it is also of note that the artist wrote in later life that all the vegetable and floral images were all drawn from imagination, never once from life. Naturalists abhorred his work, and Kolbe regretted not having taken a more documentary approach.

Viewed in a contemporary context, we have the makings of the hermetic garden, expressing the idea of the imaginary subconscious being like a garden, closely linked to our contemporary understanding of gardens as a private zone in which we can indulge.

Images  courtesy of the trustees of the british Museum and