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Large exhibition with more than 200 objects

on display to 1 September 2019

Earthly paradises in East and West

The National Museum of Antiquities turns the spotlight on medieval gardens. Medieval Gardens features stories about plants, herbs, and floral splendour in the Middle Ages, from Europe to the Middle East. Subjects include ornamental and vegetable gardens, gardening in the Middle Ages, pleasure gardens, and the concept of the garden as a ‘paradise’. On show are illustrated medieval manuscripts, herbaria, floral carpets, paintings and prints, garden tools found in archaeological digs, tile tableaux, and tableware with floral motifs.

The Importance of Gardens in the Middle Ages

In Medieval Gardens. Earthly paradises in East and West, artworks and archaeological finds together present a picture of the luxuriousness, importance, and diversity of gardens in the worlds of the Christian West and Islamic East between 1200 and 1600. The exhibition bridges the gap between the gardens of Western and Eastern culture, revealing striking similarities. Gardens played an important part in people’s lives in that era. They were not only sources of food and medicine, for instance, but were also ideal settings for recreation, hunting, and courtly love.

Paradise carpets, herbaria, prints, mediaeval garden books, and a watering can

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.


The exhibition was developed in partnership with Leiden Botanical Gardens. It includes loans from collections including that of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Koninklijk Oudheidkundig Genootschap Amsterdam, Leiden University Library, Museum Boerhaave, Naturalis Biodiversity Centre, and heritage institutions in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Delft, Alkmaar, ’s-Hertogenbosch and Antwerp. The National Museum of Antiquities enjoys the support of the BankGiro Lottery.

Image campaign design: Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

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