Gardens of Love

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

Leiden: Brill, 2019


Gardens of Love and the Limits of Morality in Early Netherlandish Art charts the moralization of human bodies in late medieval and early modern visual culture, including through paintings by Jan van Eyck and Hieronymus Bosch, devotional prints and illustrated books, and the celebrated enclosed gardens of Mechelen. Drawing on new archival evidence and innovative visual analysis to reframe familiar religious discourses, the book demonstrates that topographical motifs advanced, and sometimes resisted, bodily critiques expressed in scripture, conduct literature, and even legislation. Governing many of these redemptive greenscapes were the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary, archetypes of purity whose spiritual authority was impossible to ignore, yet whose mysteries posed innumerable moral challenges. As the study shows, bodily status was the fundamental problem of human salvation, in which artists, patrons, and viewers alike had an interpretive stake.

Supported by grants from the Renaissance Society of America and the Historians of Netherlandish Art. Nominated for the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Prize for the Best Book in Renaissance Studies, Renaissance Society of America and the Best Book Award, Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender.

Related Publications65

(See also “Disability and the Senses” on the website’s homepage)

“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, 18-28. Turnhout: Brepols, 2019.

“The Painted Wings of the Mechelen Enclosed Gardens,” in Mechelen Enclosed Gardens: Late Medieval Paradise Gardens Revealed, ed. Lieve Watteeuw, 122-31. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018.

“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.

2dAbstract: The theme of ‘The Infants Christ and St. John the Baptist Embracing and Kissing’ was one of the most successful iconographic types in early modern Netherlandish painting, yet the utility of the imagery remains understudied. Visual and textual evidence aligns in these works to reveal a pictorial language in which spiritual desire was expressed and meant to be inflamed by carnal desire. Yet spectators also could have drawn from a broad set of contingent visual resources to interpret the imagery as a condemnation of same-sex carnal practices. This period in fact coincided with new legislation in 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.


Plenary speaker, “Delimiting Choice: Lessons from a Netherlandish Christ-Child Incunable,” for the conference “Attending to Early Modern Women: Action and Agency,” University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, June 2018.

“Moralized Eroticism and the Depicted Christ Child in the Early Modern Netherlands,” presented at “Holy Children/Liminal Bodies,” a conference organized by the Institute for Art History, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, 2017.

“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.

How does this project connect to contemporary issues? Click here for a list of resources and further reading.

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

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