The Essence of The World is a Flower

In my previous post about Abu Ward, I paid tribute to a man who without the benefit of higher education had the wisdom to articulate what has been known to humans for thousands of years that ‘the essence of the world is a flower.’

It is thought that the first botanical drawings appeared 2000 years ago. They were included in medical texts to prevent any misunderstanding as it could have been fatal. In the time of Emperor Nero, a Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides published the first botanical illustrations in his five volumes De Materia Medica.

The Middle Age monasteries were the source of many illuminated manuscripts, and although not precisely devoted to the drawing of flowers, they always had monks adding some botanical plants, mainly flowers, to beautify the pages.

The 18th and 19th centuries became famous for botanical illustrations as many illustrators produced scientific drawings of flowers and plants. It coincided with the explosion of the scientific revolution, and the desire to learn, to observe and to discover. The most famous was the Flemish painter Pierre Joseph Redouté. He was especially admired for his drawings of roses, although there were many others like Otto Wilhelm Thome, William Jackson Hooker,  Walter Hood Fitch and William Henry Prestele, to mention just a few. Redouté excelled in botanical drawings of roses by perfecting the technique of engraving. His three volumes of 250 roses were produced to the Empress  Josephine’s order. He was appointed her chief court painter. When he died in 1840, there was no one who could paint botanical illustrations in such an exquisite way.

The need for books with colourful illustrations of flowers remained and it was best represented by the famous and highly valued Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 – 1717). Tsar Peter the Great noticed her work during his travels in Europe and admired her work so much that he bought a large selection of her watercolours. After his death,  the paintings were given to the Academy of Science. Unusually for women of that time, she was not only uniquely talented but also successful in business dealings and marketing her work. By all accounts, she was an emancipated and remarkable woman.

In England, at the time there was another highly talented woman, Marianne North (1830 – 1890), a brilliant illustrator, who travelled the globe in search of the most exotic plants and flowers. She was so prolific that to display all her work, a gallery was built in Kew Gardens. Every inch of the walls, from the floor to the ceiling, are covered with her colourful paintings, that dazzle visitors with their spectacular brightness and originality. There has been no one since that could have made such a lasting impact on the world of botanical paintings.

The contemporary American painter, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), who was famous for her paintings of magnified flowers, said: ‘When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.’ In 2014, her painting Jimson Weed/White Flower No1 was sold at Sotheby’s for £30 million. I rest my case.

The Victorians created The Language of Flowers, an elegant if not quaint little book that gave the meaning to hundreds of flowers. While most had only one meaning, the rose had forty of them. Starting with the obvious one: Rose……………………….Love, it then covered most of the well known.

 

Rose, Austrian………………………Thou art all that is lovely

Rose, Boule de Neige…………….Only for thee

Rose, Bridal…………………………….Happy Love

Rose, Burgundy……………………….Unconscious Beauty

Rose, Campion…………………………Only deserve my love

Rose, Christmas……………………….Relieve my anxiety

Rose, Deep Red…………………………Bashful shame

Rose, Musk, cluster…………………..Charming

Rose, White……………………………….I am worthy of you

Rose, Yellow……………………………….Decrease of love, Jealousy

Those are just a few examples, but it is enough proof that The Rose is the most loved and admired of flowers. Its beauty and its intoxicating scent enslave us all. Rose petals are used as fragrant confetti that is thrown over newlyweds or used to decorate the bed in a honeymoon suite. Rose oil is an expensive ingredient in the production of many perfumes. There is even an exquisite jam/confiture made by rubbing certain rose petals with sugar, absolutely delicious on freshly baked scones.

And lastly, here is my humble effort at painting roses. It isn’t even anywhere near the Masters’ sublime talents, but it is still more rewarding to me than colouring books for stressed grown-ups, so popular lately.

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “The Essence of The World is a Flower

  1. Very interesting post. Wildflowers are a breed apart.

    Like

  2. Thank you, Jacqui. You are right. I am going to write about the meadow in some detail in my next post. Do you have a crystal ball?
    Seriously though, you are very kind to be always the first person to read my blog. Greatly appreciated.

    Like

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