Flowers in Art: A History
In Ancient Egyptian mythology, the Lotus or Sacred Blue Lily as it is also referred to is the national flower of Egypt. Prominently featured on pillars, altars, tombs, ponds and basins; it is regarded as the symbol of the sun and a sign of rebirth.
Daisy, chrysanthemum, poppy, jasmine and roses were also highly regarded and depicted on the tombs of kings to send them into the afterlife.
During this period, tapestries and other large-scale textile art gained popularity, commonly popping up in castles and churches across Europe. In many of these works, the subject—often a group of figures—is placed against a backdrop embellished with repeating floral patterns.
These pieces are known as millefleur tapestries (from the French “thousand flowers”). Surprisingly, many of the medieval flowers common to 12th century England are still grown in gardens around the world today.
During the Italian Renaissance, artists were in love with the idea of flowers and often incorporated floral designs into their large-scale mythological paintings. One of the most famous pieces of floral renaissance art is Primavera by Botticelli. The goddess of Spring is shown sprinkling flowers on the blossom-covered forest floor, which make up most of the 190 blooms featured in the painting.
At this time, many Renaissance artists specialised in still-life painting. Often, these depictions featured floral arrangements that typically combined flowers from different countries and even different continents in one vase and at one moment of blooming, illustrating the importance and prevalence of botanical books and other floral studies during the Renaissance/Baroque period.
During the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movement, painters used floral subject matter in several ways. Often, a beautifully arranged bouquet is featured as a subject of an indoor scene. Unlike still-life paintings, these pieces frequently include figures, too.
In other paintings, blooms set the scene and serve as a backdrop. As many Impressionist artists opted to paint outdoors; flowers, plants, and other elements of nature often compose the background of their paintings.