2: Garden of Love


Crispin de Passe, Horus Voluptatum: Garden of Love, ca. 1600 (Netherlands), engraving, 5 ½  x 3 ¾ inches.

This print depicts a collection of upper-middle or upper-class individuals engaging in romantic courtship through conversation, music making, and gesture in an enclosed garden setting. Such gardens of love were a typical subject in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century art. This era was also when the Netherlands were entering what is known now as the Dutch Golden Age. During this time, many social constructs were reworked and reimagined; of these constructs love and marriage became one that took on significantly new definitions, forms, and customs, primarily driven by the youth and young adults of the time. These individuals began to engage in more premarital courtships and seductions, along with clandestine betrothals and marriages, both of which were highly frowned upon by the church.[1] These changes found expression in literary works in which readers were encouraged to identify with the characters and lovers present within the stories and were asked to be performers in order to serenade each other with love songs.[2]

At this time the Low Countries were a major center of painting and print production, so, as the constructs of love and merriment began to take center stage in Low Country culture, they also began to infuse themselves into the visual arts. Such images contained figures engaging in different aspects of courtship, love, and seduction. Images of characters dressed in elaborate party-like clothes enjoying physical connection, music, poetry, and other arts, while surrounded by beautiful floral growth and high garden hedges, were used to represent changing ideas about love and marriage in the Netherlands around the turn of the century.[3] Such works depicting these romantic hedged enclosures would, at times, contain heavenly and celestial forms of love, including lovers being led by cupid, or cupid flying above a certain couple or group conveying the classic saying of “love in the air; Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt van Rijn each produced several pieces in which these Gardens of Love became the central theme.[4]  This print, Hortus Voluptatum, is a classic early example of these Gardens of Love, containing most of the standard characters and features: the enclosed garden, characters in different stages of intimacy, and the classic musical instrument of this era of Golden Age Dutch culture, the lute.[5]

While the relationship of this work to changing Dutch attitudes about courtship is interesting, what makes this work a global object is its reception half a world away in Japan. The Portuguese “discovered” Japan mostly by accident, shipwrecking in Tanegashima in 1543.[6] Following the Portuguese, whom the Japanese called the Namban or Southern Barbarians, the Jesuits arrived to convert the Japanese and also began to teach local artists how to paint in European style to recreate Christian imagery.[7] However, after political change shook Japan, the new ruler Hideyoshi found that the Europeans and specifically Catholicism and the Portuguese could be a serious threat to his political power.[8] In the end, only the Dutch were left with the trading rights after renouncing any interest in converting the Japanese to Christianity.[9] This left the Dutch with near exclusivity on trading European goods.

Like other goods coming in to Japan on European ships, European prints were considered valuable commodities by the newly established merchant class under Hideyoshi.[10] From the first contact with the Portuguese, the Japanese became fascinated with all things European. When first encountering the extravagant decoration on the Portuguese ships the Japanese recognized the Europeans as people who could amass more wealth than they could ever dream of having.[11]  Even the emperor of Japan went as far as displaying European art in his palace, not to show that he was aligned with Christianity, but rather to show his wealth and prestige.[12] Japanese artists, some of whom may have been trained in the Jesuit schools, were often asked by Japanese patrons to produce works containing European figures and using European stylistic features, sometimes drawing on imported European prints as models.

Japanese, Namban Screen (Scenes of European Life), early 17th c., 93×302 cm (MOA Museum of Art, Shizuola, Japan)

This is exactly what appears to have happened in the case of our print, or rather one quite similar to it. A Namban (European-style) Japanese screen from the early seventeenth century currently residing in the MOA Museum of Art in Shizuoka, Japan, while not directly modelled on the figures in our print, features groups of figures, both male and female, elegantly dressed in European costumes and playing European musical instruments. A wealthy Japanese patron would want to own such an image, not just because of ideas of the foreign other, but also because of its foreign stylistic manner which further defined the differences between Japanese and European art.  Crucial to this piece are the certain European stylistic elements: the use of perspective to render distance, and the use of shading. Perspective was not an artistic technique that the Japanese had experience with and when first confronted with perspective the Japanese were intrigued by the new artistic style, albeit mainly as curiosity in the foreign European art.[13] Thus Japanese artists featured perspective in Namban-style paintings, but did not make it a part of their domestic artistic lexicon. Similarly, shading was also a feature of Europeans art that made the figures in the images appear three dimensional. It was not traditionally used by the Japanese, who preferred to focus on two dimensional figures and instead emphasized things such as color, but was incorporated into Namban-style works. Prints such as ours made extensive use of these stylistic elements, making them incredibly distinct from  traditional Japanese art and creating a high demand among upper-class Japanese individuals for art in this style, a demand that was sometimes filled by Japanese artists.

Taken together the Japanese Namban screen and the Dutch print tell the tale of an interconnected world and remind us that while Europe was encountering the non-European other, these same people were also encountering Europe. While, in its Dutch context, the print reflects certain key social changes in the period, once transported to Japan it began to embody Japanese ideas about the exoticism of European culture.  The globalization of the world brought about by colonial trading was not only useful in trading goods but also in creating new and interesting hybrid art styles such as the Namban style we have encountered here.

Nick Dillion and Stephan Vanyo


[1] H. Rodney Nevitt, Art and the Culture of Love in Seventeenth-century Holland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 6-7.

[2] Ibid., 7-10.

[3]  Kahren Jones Hellerstedt, Gardens of Earthly Delight: Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century Netherlands Gardens: April 3-May 18, 1986. (Pittsburgh, PA: Frick Art Museum, 1986), 7.

[4] Elise Goodman, “Rubens’s Conversatie à La Mode: Garden of Leisure, Fashion, and Gallantry,” Art Bulletin 64, no. 2 (1982): 248.

[5] Ibid., 250.

[6] “1450-1750: Japan: The Tokugawa.” Asia for Educators. Columbia University, Accessed 22 Apr. 2016. <http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/main_pop/kpct/kp_tokugawa.htm&gt;.

[7] Yoshitomo Okamoto, .The Namban Art of Japan (New York: Weatherhill/Heibonsha, 1972), 29.

[8] Ibid., 32.

[9] Ibid., 40.

[10] Ibid., 77.

[11] Ibid., 68.

[12] Ibid., 77.

[13]  Mia M. Mochizuki, “Idolatry and Western-Inspired Painting in Japan” in The Idol in the Age of Art: Objects, Devotions and the Early Modern World, eds. Michael Wayne Cole and Rebecca Zorach (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Pub., 2009), 247.