As explained in a previous post, my main piece explores the imagery found in Catherine de Medici's garden at Chenonceau in France's Loire region. The work is a metre long and develops studies of small sections of the planting in the Chateau's formal gardens. Below are two of these studies, which have evolved from photographs taken during my visit in July.
The colour imagery in the garden and in my pieces tells a far more complex and dark tale with its planting in black (or near-black), and white flowers with acid green foliage. Catherine is known as the Black Queen or sometimes the Black Widow and the inclusion of the colour in the garden marks at its simplest level her life after the king's death when she wore black trimmed with white as a sign of mourning everyday until her own death in 1589.
However, as well as its association with death and grief, black is said to symbolise power and authority. Although largely shunned by her husband in his lifetime, Catherine had considerable power and influence after his death which she exercised ruthlessly as the mother of his sons. She has been described as probably the most powerful woman in 16th century Europe as she fought for the rights of her sons to govern.
Black can suggest evil and cruelty and throughout this time, Catherine is known to have been callous and at times brutal. In her later years, she was linked with the excessive persecution of the Calvinist Protestants (or Huguenots) and was blamed, perhaps wrongly, for the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572 in which thousands of people lost their lives.
Black, being the absence of colour, is sometimes associated with mystery and intrigue. Catherine was known also as the 'Sinister Queen' as she was supposed to have an interest in the occult and there was the suggestion of witchcraft. There is much mystery behind the true nature of her involvement.
The shadowed and flipped repetitions of the rose trees and their under-planting in my pieces are intended to suggest this mystery and to hint at the many deaths that may have resulted from her ruthlessness.
Although I was aware of these sinister undercurrents as I walked around the garden, strangely the overwhelming feeling that I was left with after my visit was of calm and order rather than horror and darkness. Perhaps I was reacting only to the garden on a hot summer's day with its orderly plants and unusual colour palette.
Odd though that one woman's tangled and difficult life and its aftermath should have produced such mixed feelings. I hope that my pieces hint at this ambivalence.
* Details of the exhibition are given in the sidebar of this blog.