Enclosed Garden with Saints Elisabeth, Ursula and Catharina

Anonymous, ca. 1513
Museum Hof van Busleyden, Malines

The besloten hofjes, or enclosed gardens, are probably the most enigmatic retables ever produced in the Low Countries. One of the best preserved is the enclosed garden with Saints Elizabeth, Ursula and Catherine. Made for (and probably by) the Augustinian nuns of Malines, it is a testimony of devotion. The iconography is quite complex, and perfectly suited to the hospice nuns. Three female saints stand in a hortus conclusus, the Latin term for an enclosed garden. The various references to one of the most mystical texts in the Bible, the Song of Songs, the stories of martyrs, and references to piety and purity fit perfectly with the spiritual world of the Augustinian nuns. A hybrid and overwhelming spectacle of images, relics, textiles, flowers and other objects enhances the religious experience. This is a work of art in which viewers lose themselves, a devotional image that encourages the viewer to look beyond the material and embark on a spiritual journey.

Peter Carpreau, Director of the Old Masters Department, M Leuven, Louvain

Video by CODART

Explore more

Conservation and restoration project

More information on the ‘besloten hofjes’ (in Dutch)

View on

Information on the museum website

View on