A FLORAL HISTORY : The Language of Flowers
It's officially springtime! And florals abound.
Flowers have always been used to express sentiments, but it wasn't until romantic Victorian Europe that a set of rules was created for how flowers could be used as a means of real communication.
The Victorian era used floral arrangements as a way to show off wealth and status through lavish and intricate bouquet designs. Arrangements were created using flowers straight from the garden, with the general expression of a bouquet being one that celebrated the opulence of an abundance of fresh flowers.
Because of the emphasis on etiquette during this time, we see the first attempt to establish a simple set of rules for the arranging of flowers. Hundreds of books were written exploring the symbolism and meaning of different flowers and herbs. Out of this emerged the study of Floriography — The Language of Flowers. A rose became associated with feelings of love. A lily for purity. Hyacinth for jealousy. The way the flowers were arranged and the different combinations held significant meaning as well. Using these rules, one could create bouquets that spoke.
This was the first time floral arrangements really became considered a form of art.
Throughout history, small bouquets called nosegays had been worn as accessories for their fragrant properties (hence the name, meaning nose ornament). But as the language of flowers continued to embed into everyday life during the time of Queen Victoria, these little bouquets became a means of self expression through symbolism.
These "talking bouquets" (also known as tussie mussies or posi) became particularly popular in response to the rigid etiquette and growing social rules of this era because they were a way to cryptically communicate emotions and messages that could not otherwise be outwardly expressed, most often in the context of courtship.
The rules became even more intricate:
If flowers were handed to someone upside down, it indicated that the typical meaning of the flowers should be interpreted in the opposite way.
If flowers were handed to someone using the right hand, it meant that they were answering "yes" to a question. Being given with the left hand was a "no."
The symbolism from this time continues to influence floral design today.
What's your favorite floral pattern trying to say?
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Michael J Spear
Vincent van Gogh, Roses.
Michiel Sweerts, Boy in a Turban Holding a Nosegay.