The Garden of Desire illumination is rich with details intended to evoke the many images and layers of meaning in the Song of Solomon. The eye is drawn first to the garden of the title and its wall, and on closer inspection you’ll discover that the garden houses an intricate labyrinth outlined in delicate gold. Expanding your view outward, notice the line segments, some bright gold and others warm red, that have escaped the garden. If captured and reassembled, these segments would cover a portion of the labyrinth; they are puzzle pieces. Their travels around the page lead your eye to the border where you might notice first the trees, then the flowers, houses, camels, birds, and people.
The labyrinth, puzzle pieces, and border reference the Song’s imagery and meaning layers. One can read the Song as a love poem between humans and also as an expression of God’s love for Israel. Similarly the labyrinth can be a symbol of the path one travels to reach Wisdom however defined: knowledge, peace with the world and oneself, God, etc. The puzzle pieces have escaped and become disordered, but perhaps they long for order and desire to be reunited. They might represent humans’ desire for social connection, and for some people connection to God.
In The Art of The Saint John’s Bible, Susan Sink writes that artist Donald Jackson enthusiastically embraced the “opportunity to find a visual language for this poetry” and states that the Bible’s highest ratio of illumination to text is found in the Song of Solomon book: “two back-to-back spreads and a text treatment adorn the eight chapters.” (Vol. 2, p. 32) You can see the shadow of the second back-to-back spread on the right-hand page of this illumination. The shadow is specially printed on the Heritage Edition to mimic the ink bleed-through that occurred in the original.