Friday, December 5, 2014

The Language of Flowers

In the nineteenth century, the role of women became a dominant focus in the world of art.  In addition to the popularity of representing women, flowers soon became an important part of the depiction. During this time, plants began to represent a new language of art. Soon, each individual flower and plant formed an individual meaning. Though the type of flower or plant represented something specific, the other attributes did as well. The color of the flowers, as well as the number of flowers created a dialogue with the viewer and represented something that the artist was trying to say. This is a short poem from The Language of Flowers, where you can see that each flower was a symbolization of a specific thought or idea.
There is a language little known;
Lovers claim it as their own.
Its symbols smile upon the land,
Wrought by Nature’s wondrous hand;
And in their silent beauty, speak
Of life and joy, to those who seek
For love divine and sunny hours,
In the language of the flowers.
(From The Language of Flowers, 1875)

As the language of flowers became more prominent, artists began to use them to depict specific ideas in their works. The language of flowers influenced many artists’ pieces. These floral additions to their art assisted in conveying the artists’ intended purpose for a piece, because each flower represented an idea or feeling. This is a collection of pieces from different societies in which the viewer can see the emergence of flowers in the 19th century. The flowers in these art pieces were created as a source of symbolism to the overall picture.

Charles Cromwell Ingham, The Flower Girl, 1846

Oil on Canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 02.7.1
When viewing Ingham’s American painting, the viewer’s attention is immediately drawn to the vibrant arrangement of flowers being held by the young, simple looking girl.  Although this arrangement is what stands out the most, the potted fuchsia held in the opposite hand is the object that is most clearly symbolic in the painting.  This type of flower is representative of frustrated love.  If this is the theme of the painting, the idea becomes clear as to why the lively bouquet of flowers appears so out of place, as if they have blown off of another painting.  Ingham uses the bright and unseemly arrangement as a queue that the woman is feeling uneasy about a relationship she has.  The arrangement is so different from the rest of the painting, allowing the reader to conclude that this is some sort of discourse happening with the girl.

Edwin Long, The Daughters of Our Empire. England: The Primrose, 1887

Oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art.
Long’s portrait of a shorthaired woman delicately carrying flowers in her dress, is a representation of a woman with flowers in England.  The yellow primroses gathered in the woman’s light peach colored dress symbolize youth and young love.  The flowers are representing the woman, as she is clearly young, and has an innocent looking face, like that of a child.  She makes the viewer curious as to why she is holding the flowers in her dress this way, and where she is going with them. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A Vision of Fiammetta, 1878

Oil on canvas, Collection of Lord Loyd Webber.

Rossetti, an English artist, created a portrait of a woman surrounded by apple blossoms.  According to the Language of flowers, this could mean preference.  An apple blossom may also symbolize good fortune, or the promise of things getting better. The High Anglican Church highly affected Rossetti’s artwork soon after becoming familiar with it, and this piece was no exception. The apple blossoms are scattered around the woman in a similar manner to that of a Catholic altar.  Also, she is wearing a red cloth, which may be representing an altar cloth used in the church.  People of this religion believed that “the end of all religion must be communion with God.” Clearly, the apple blossoms are symbolizing the delight one will soon have when they approach the alter, and share communion with God.

Edgar Degas, A Woman Seated Beside a Vase of Flowers, 1865

Oil on canvas,The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 29.100.128.
In this piece from Paris, there is an assortment of flowers in the center of the painting.  The fact that there are many different types of flowers may be symbolic of the many thoughts and emotions of life.  The woman in this picture is an older woman, as we can see by her mature looking face and attire, who has lived through many different stages of life and experienced many emotions. The flowers are representing life and how beautiful, yet diverse it is in terms of the experiences.

John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851

Oil on canvas, Tate Britain.
This painting is Millais’ London interpretation of the death scene of Ophelia, from Hamlet. Millais surrounds Ophelia in the water with daisies, which are representative of innocence and the new born.  In this scene, Ophelia has just drowned herself, as to escape from the world.  By choosing to take away her life by water, she is, in some sorts, washing away her sins and making herself pure and innocent. The daisies are a perfect representation of what Millias is trying to depict in his painting, as Opheilia is becoming clean in hopes of creating, by her spirit, a rebirth, as she cannot stand to live in the world any longer.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Waking up: A Girl of the Koka Era, 1888

Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 2005.349.
The asagao is a very popular and admired flower in the Japanese culture.  The flowers are also know as the “morning face” because they open up in the morning, but slowly fade away as the sun begins to shine upon them.  To the Japanese, this symbolizes a short life.  In this picture, we can see that the woman is older, by her hair that looks to be graying, and by her breast which appears to be slightly sagging. In the Japanese culture, the elderly are highly looked up to.  Therefore, the flower may be symbolizing the admiration of those younger than she.  Similarly, as she gets ready for her day in the morning hours, she may be realizing her age and that her life is passing by quickly. 

Kaila Modomo

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