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Fra Angelico: ANNUNCIATION, 1438-50, Frescoe on the northern corridor of St. Marco's monastery
Master Leonard: THE UNICORN HUNT IN THE CLOSED GARDEN, frescoe, 1504
The image Hortus conclusus is very rare in Slovenia. Actually, the only one, but exceptioanal. which is preserved can be found on the northern wall in St. Andrew's church in Moravce.

(1) Etymologically, virtual means ability to act (it has all the possibility to be realized). Virtual is not a contemporary expression that originates in virtual reality. It was known and used already in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

(2) It is interesting that in Slovene the word 'image' is used in two contexts:
visually and verbally (as in the Scripture: the image from the Moses' Book...(MZ 18,1-15)

(3) Figure - the meaning of the word is essential. Figure is not used to tell a story or reveal a visual aspect of things; this is how Albertus Magnus
understood it and how we understand it today. The role of the figure is its displacement from a painting into viewer's innerness so that it becomes his inner image. Along with other images it then creates the net of Scripture's figures. Thus a subject gains virtues, which man is supposed to have. Biblical figures shape our inner world through that grid.

(4) MISTERY - Hans Belting says (inThe Picture and its Community in the Middle Ages) that recognizing a religious reality (mysteries) is connected
to recognizing, which we get during meditation. Mysteries are rather experienced than realized.
- Jure Mikuz writes in the book Blood and Milk: "... mystery; and that is its real virtue: we should believe in it and not ask about it."
-There is much illogical in all theological mysteries (Immaculate Conception, burning bush...). Paradoxes are there with a reason. Through an illogical structure they divert us from the world and the way that it functions. Mystery acts as a doorstep, which we cross and do not dwell upon, but experience it. These features are similar to functions of thoughts and dreams

(5) Annunciation is an image from the New Testament; the archangel Gabriel tells Mary that she is going to give birth to the son of God. The Annunciation is a key mystery of Christian religion for it is God's
embodiment through Christ's birth.

(6) ""AVE MARIA GRACIA PLENA DOMINUS TECUM ": the angel's greeting in Annunciation

(7) Dogs on Moravce frescoes were ruined during masonry works in the church.

(8) In Hebrew Eden means 'comfort' (paradise is therefore a state of comfort).

(9) KONTEMPLATION: Thomas Aquinas denotes contemplation as "an act of seeing God in himself" (contemplatio nominat actum videndi Deum in se).

(10)"The Paradise is a coexistence of all beings", VSSD.

The power of image (imago agens) today is widely used in advertising strategies. In the place of consumer's decision a wish is imposad. A wish is no longer an individual's intimate question as it has already heen impressed in unconsciousness before. Mary as a central female figure is the late Rennaisance transferred to Venus. Today it is embodied in Naomy Campbell, Madonna etc.

(12) EIDOS, Greek for 'image'. A branch in psychology deals with formation of human perceptions and meanings of images in forming of these perceptions.

Annunciation according to Tizian:
a cycle of five paintings based on Tizian's Annunciation, from 1545. Angel Gabriel and Mary are disappearing (or appearing?) m the structure of amorphus brush-strokes. The dialectics between "formed" and pulsion of invisible was probably crucial to Gerhard Richters intention. The particular usage of brush stroke (aufstrich) materializes the state of the event as such.
k s e n i j a . č e r č e hortus conclususpika1esay  



The starting points of the essay are based on the theses given in the work Fra Angelico-dissemblance and figuration by Georges Didi-Huberman.
While writing this essay, I was bothered by inexpressibility. However, the fact that things are inexpressible still does not mean that they are non-existent.
The most appropriate approach to the central theme was found in hermeneutics. As a method, this science always shifts from what is obvious to what is latent; and this is the very strategy that was widely used in exegesis.
Exegesis (the science of the Bible interpretation) did not embody what was possible in its medieval and Renaisance bloom. On the contrary, it was faithfully devoted to what is invisible and impossible. An infinite world of relations where each part functions in relation with other parts was created by its practice. Exegesis invented links between words and biblical images. It created enigmas and maintained a mystery of its core. That is why art of painting became its essential domain; materials, colours, and concepts were the very phe-nomena that played the role of ambiguous meanings, mutual connections and displacements.

The thesis of a role of an image in Renaissance contemplative practice is based on the comprehension of art of painting that differs from today's; this was due to the fact that the practice of hermeneutics was closely linked with exegesis. In quatroccento religious art of painting, the meaning of each image was closely linked with biblical meanings; and this does not relate to stories only. An image provided a stimulus to evoke remi-nisce about inner virtues, which the Bible attempted to reveal in man.



Let us consider the coord inates from which the art of memory originates and how intimately it relates to art of painting. According to Frances A. Yeats it is essential that the art of memory, ARS MEMORIAE, originates from the Middle Ages.

This practice is based on the inclusion of "the inner world". Georges Didi Huberman distinguishes between two spatial definitions: space and place. Space is geometrically measured area (from here to there) and it is in the outside which surrounds us. Place is located in our innerness. It is a psychological place where our memories, wishes, thoughts, phantasms reside, it is the place of imagination.

Within the framework of the unconscious place is defined as the "place within the psyche" and it is supposed to come from the memory back to reality and presence through cyclic activity of the psyche. On the basis of this psychological phenomenon a strong virtual practice developed in the Middle Ages - the art of memory.

The Bible had its own semiotic world. A believer made it intimate through a virtual net and the art of memo-ry. The virtual net is composed of biblical images and figures settled in inner places of memory. And it is in the topology of the place that each and every image is displaced and linked to other images (2). Thus memory becomes a practice of the virtual and time gets a cyclic structure. Memory shifts each figure (3) or image from the past to the present, transfers it to presence.

Let us go back in time when this practice was invented and used, so as to understand the practice of the in-ner place and the shift of consciousness in the art of memory.
While looking at the Annunciation (representing the garden Hortus conclusus on the left) a question is raised: How did a painter in the 15th century perceive place? In the fresco, the painter raised the line of the horizon so that it is possible to observe the place of Annunciation only when an observer kneels in front of the image, which is during prayer. A perspective is not used in order to produce the effect of a window ope-ning to the world, but it rather aims to enforce presence, the presence of a kneeling believer; the painting makes one take a praying position.

Another question arises here: How can truth (veritas), virtue (virtus) or theological mystery (4) be a subject matter of a painting? We would like to discoverwhere does a painting get its ability to touch us within, to arouse our archetypal depths; how an image marks us?

Let us presume that biblical images belong to the sphere of an individual's questions. Imagine that the virtual net of biblical figures represents their closeness as well. Unlike today, faith was inextricably linked with life then.


First of all it is a quotation from the Song of Songs (4,12), where a groom compares his bride to a closed para-dise, enclosed garden. The text from the Old Testament was much commented on by Christian exegetes in different periods. Most likely this was due to the fact that the magnificent song about body allegory allowed theologians to make enigmatic figurations of the theme of Christ's incarnation in the Annunciation (5).

The Song of Songs is one of the fleshliest texts in the Bible; words like "kiss", "bosom", "face", and "thighs" appear in it. References to body parts are supposed to evoke open and mysterious meaning, to lead one towards the endless meaning.

The enclosed garden is a frequent form in the art of painting of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. However the theme had already developed in Gothic art while cultivating the cult of Mary's purity. Mary is surrounded by a wall in the garden full of different images-figures. A unicorn found shelter in her arms. The archangel Gabriel stands before the gate leading into the garden. The garden is surrounded by a high fence which prevents one to enter there, embraces figures, and makes them virtual: closed gate (porta aurea), the Staff of Aaron, the Ark of the Covenant, the pot of manna (urna aurea), pelican, the Burning Bush (rubus Moysis) a Mz; 16,14-18, a sealed well from the Song of Songs:" A garden enclosed is my spouse, spring shut up, a founzain sealed."
One of the most interesting figures, the unicorn, the figure indicating Mary's purity, is not found in Song of Songs. The unicorn cannot be caught alive due to its strength. But according to a myth it is possible to catch it when it lies in the lap of a virgin. Her purity is the only place where a unicorn can be overcome. Only then the hunters may catch him; catch a prey that is beyond their reach.

Another figure of Mary's purity is Gedeon's Fleece (velus Gedeonis). Just like Mary remained untouched in the sinful world, the fleece miraculously became wet in dry soil and remained dry in wet soil.

The lily denotes Mary's virginity. It is often mentioned in the Song of Songs when the groom praises his bride's body.

The Angel's greeting from the Annunciation (6) is written on the ribbon veiled around the so-called pure or clear gate (porta clara). The Archangel Cabnel stands before the door and is accompanied by four dogs (7). In the Renaissance dogs symbolised loyalty (the root of the English word 'faithful' is 'faith'). Each of the four dogs denotes a virtue present at the moment of annunciation: Mercy (Misericord la). Truth (Veritas), Justice (Justicia) and Peace (Pax).
Porta clausa, porta aurea, porta clara literally present Mary as a gate. So Mary is the place where one should enter.
The formation of the enclosed garden is very complex although it signifies something very plain - Mary.


Martin Schongauer: THE HOLY HUNT, 1450. Musee d'Unterlinden, Colmar


If Mary is understood as a place, then the place is intended for fertility of all figures and forms; for the virtual constantly multiplies within itself. As an intensive fertility it is prepared to blossom in every mo-ment imaginable. In this sense the garden and its depths are perceived by an exegete: Mary's garden is like a pictorial surface because it hides a mysterious world of secrets, a labyrinth full of meanings. The garden represents Mary-place that is fertile and virginal, open and closed, mysterious and known.
But what does the garden denote as a pre-image in theology? It means that Mary represents a fundamental place, the Residence of resemblance to God. In the Annunciation she has a role of a keeper of the place for incarnation of the invisible. It is she who represents the dialectics of the visible and invisible.


Similarly to death, birth is also a place where certain things become visible. In the annunciation, a womb is a place of metamorphosis (the body of metaphor becomes real). Metamorphosis is realised.


Hortus conclusus as a form marks a state in which Mary was at the time of annunciation. The key word is the state. When the angel visits her, Mary is already in the state of contemplation (9), which denotes "seeing God in oneself."
Albertus Magnus marked this place as the world of purity, the world within (mundus in se). The exegetes ex-plain why Mary is the enclosed garden. According to them, the garden is closed for all external perceptions; thus all the beauty and all virtues are within Mary.

Exegesis does not only claim that the garden is a figure of Mary but also that Mary herself is the garden. The figural role of the garden is a moment in the grid. That is why the garden is like a receiver; it is a place that evokes memories of the paradise garden, which Eve lost (if the angel's greeting AVE is read from right to left we get the word EVA - which is Slovene for Eve, author's note). The inversion of the word denotes that in the Annunciation Mary inverts the act of the original sin.
In Christian tradition the word paradisus (paradise (10)) is equivalent to the word hortus (garden). Thomas Aquinas writes in Summa theologica that the Pradise is a locus hominis - the place par excellence for hu-man beings - only because it cannot be depicted in the space of real existence. Therefore one should not look for place, but for space in its figural role.


In all medieval sources about the art of memory entire theories on imago agens, the operating image, are developed (11).
The place of memory is not a regular place. It could be said that a psyche "creates" it within itself so that it can preserve an image (eidos (12)). Through the place, the pictures (figures) are supposed to anchor and operate in our inner (internal) images. Human inwardness affects human deeds and so the image becomes reality. Memory becomes space; it becomes matter. As already mentioned, place is an active place of fertili-zation. Therefore Hortus conclusus is actually nothing else but a form, which initiates activation of place.


Thus it is not essential what the form of Hortus conclusus is, but rather how the form evokes that which is "formed". Let us consider a notion of form as explained by Alenka Zupančič.

»We are used to the derivation which connects the concept of form with the concept of the pure and of the universal. We also imagine that (pure) form is a result of the process of "purification" that is an act of doing something which is already here and must be cleared of all particularities. However there is another notion, in which form is the beginning of all processes; it is presented either as a starting-point already lost in its purity but still present as an "archetype", ideal; or as something that coincides with the act of creation itself, regarded as "being formed".
Therefore, matter is something "to be defined" and form is somethingthat defines. Matter is given and form is a kind of its "activation", the process of its definition or its defining. In this sense, each process related to cognition is the process of "formation". This shows that each form becomes matter for some new ("higher") formation. In transcendental sense, form is therefore "representation", appearance as such. It is that which makes us perceive things - including ourselves ...«

Gerhard Richter: oznanjenje po Tizianu / annunciation according to Tizian, 1973, olje
na platnu / oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm


Gerhard Richter: oznanjenje po Tizianu / annunciation according to Tizian, 1973, olje
na platnu / oil on canvas, 125 x 250 cm


Gerhard Richter: oznanjenje po Tizianu / annunciation according to Tizian, 1973, olje
na platnu / oil on canvas, 155 x 200 cm


Gerhard Richter: oznanjenje po Tizianu / annunciation according to Tizian, 1973, olje
na platnu / oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm


Gerhard Richter: oznanjenje po Tizianu / annunciation according to Tizian, 1973, olje
na platnu / oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm


It has already been mentioned that Hortus conclusus is actually only a form which stimulates the activation of place. This is where we leave off words and part from the Enclosed garden with Hegel's statement: "There is nothing so unbearable to a beautiful world as explaining is." Closed place remains as an archetype. It is the place represented by a uterus, but not in a physical sense.

Ontologically, a mystery of man as a human being always touches the inexpressible. And the fact is that Hortus conclusus will remain a perfect and secret place forever.


Hans Belting: A PICTURE AND ITS COMMUNITY IN THE MIDDLE AGES, Studia Humanitatis, 1999 Ljubljana, P-95

Hans Belting:
THE INVISIBLE MASTERPIECE, 2001, University of Chicago Press

Roger Brooke:
JUNG'S METHOD IN THE LIGHT OF PHENOMENOLOGY, Polygraphs,1996, No. 3/4, pp.71-106

Georges Didi-Huberman:
FRA ANGELICO; DISSEMBLANCE AND FIGURATION, translated in the English language by Jane Marie Todd, 1995, The University of Chicago Press.

Peter Gorsen:

Lise Gotfredsen:
THE UNICORN, Aberville Press Publishers, 1999 N.Y.

Lev Menaše:

Lev Menase:
MARY IN SLOVENE ART, The Mohar's Company, Celje 1994.

Jure Mikuž:
BLOOD AND MILK, Studia Humamtatis, 1999 Ljubljana, p.105


Gerhard Richter:

Anne Rorimer:
NEW ART IN THE 60S AND 70S; REDIF INING BEALITY, 2001 London, Thames and Hudson

THE SCRIPTURES, published by British biblical company, Ljubljana 1997.

VSSD: THE WORD OF A PAINTING (BOOK), 1984-1995, Analecta

Alenka Zupančič:
PASSAGE L'ART OR ART AS A DEED, First part; RAZPOL II, 1999, No.7-8, Second part;
PEOBLEMS, 2000, No. 1/2


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