Gardens of Love: Book Project and Resources

Book Project

Gardens of Love and the Limits of Morality in Early Netherlandish Art

LittleCompton_Middendorf_compressed by APRenaissance love was many things. It was playful and capricious; it was earnest and caring; it was formidable, dreaded, and unrelentingly pursued. It was also intensely scrutinized and carefully controlled. My project, a scholarly book under advance contract, demonstrates the role of visual images in the regulation of Renaissance love, broadly defined, in the southern Low Countries. The project offers new readings of familiar themes by means of visuality – the study of interpretive seeing – a neglected approach in this and certain other art-historical fields. Thus, the impact of the study is both historical and methodological. At the same time, the book engages other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences that also are striving to better understand love. This approach will, I hope, inspire2c new cross-disciplinary inquiry about a fundamental category of human desire.

How does this project connect to contemporary issues?

Click here for a list of resources and further reading


“Consumption as Eroticism in Early Netherlandish Devotional Art,” in Imagery and Ingenuity in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of Jeffrey Chipps Smith, ed. Alisa Carlson, Catharine Ingersoll, and Jessica Weiss. Turnhout: Brepols, forthcoming.

“Visuality, Morality, and Same-Sex Desire: Images of the Infants Christ and St. John the Baptist in Early Netherlandish Art,” Art History 38 (2015): 434-61.

2bArticle abstract: The theme of “The Infants Christ and St. John the Baptist Embracing and Kissing” was prominent in early modern Netherlandish painting, yet the imagery remains understudied. Visual and textual evidence aligns in my investigation to reveal a pictorial language in which carnal desire inflamed spiritual desire. Yet spectators drew from contingent visual resources to interpret the imagery as a condemnation of same-sex carnal practices. This period in fact coincided with new legislation in the city of Antwerp that deepened the criminalization of sodomy and other non-procreative sexual acts. Read differently, however, the imagery suggests a compassionate view about same-sex relationships and, by extension, the sorts of sexual activities that defined that preference. This investigative path broadens the methodological landscape in a field in which both visuality and same-sex desire remain underexplored.


“Erotic Intimacy and the Depicted Christ Child in Early Modern Antwerp,” Sixteenth Century Society and Conference, Bruges, 2016.

“Consumption as Eroticism in Early Netherlandish Devotional Art,” Renaissance Society oPearson, RSA 2016f America, Boston, 2016.

“It’s in His Kiss: Holiness and Homoeroticism in Early Netherlandish Art,” presented at “Framing Premodern Desires,” a conference organized by the University of Turku in 2014, and by invitation at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, in 2010.

Cited by the MA in Public History at the University of Amsterdam

“In March 2015 the IHLIA, a Dutch organization for collecting and preserving LGBT heritage, organized a symposium called ‘Queering the Collections’. Concerns were expressed about the lack of recognition for LGBT stories and objects in Dutch museums. A much heard complaint from museums is that there are not enough objects to display. The symposium called for more projects to expand and add to Dutch LGBT heritage collections.”



With thanks to José Boon and Eline Kemps.

Related Collaboration

In progress: Session organized with Sarah Moran, Utrecht University, for the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference (SCSC), 2017: Beyond Interiority: Prayer, Politics, and Agencies in Northern European Devotional Art c. 1400-1700.

Details at