From the sunflower in Van Dyck's self-portrait to roses scattered around Botticelli's Venus to columbines in the borders of fifteenth-century manuscripts, flowers grace many Renaissance artworks. But their symbolism may not be understood by the modern viewer. This is the first book to untangle the richly layered botanical messages in many of the world's great masterpieces.
Renaissance artists made conscious choices about the flowers they included in their work and by embracing new methods of observation, rendered petals and leaves with an accuracy that made each species easily identifiable. Focusing on twenty popular Renaissance flowers, including roses, lilies, irises, tulips, daises, and poppies, the author discusses the history of cultivation of each variety before examining its symbolic meanings.
Flowers and plants were not usually the subject of a painting, but rather elements of a larger religious story. Influenced by the revival of classical ideals, Renaissance artists frequently married religious symbolism with that from contemporary romances or classical mythology. For example, the hortus conclusus or closed garden, traditionally a reference to the Virgin Mary, also became a symbol for the popular Romance of the Rose, and Venus, in her purest aspect as the goddess of love, was aligned with the Virgin Mary and, like her, often surrounded by roses or daisies.
This delightful and beautifully illustrated book uncovers hidden treasures in the grass at a saint's feet, on the sleeve of an Elizabethan lady, and inside the lid of a Florentine wedding chest, allowing the reader to appreciate another aspect of many of the Renaissance's most splendid works of art.
Celia Fisher is a freelance art historian and plant specialist and the author of Flowers and Fruit (National Gallery London, 1998) and The Medieval Flower Book (British Library, 2007).
“Addressing works as varied as altarpieces, illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, and elaborate cassoni, Celia Fisher presents a lively, readable introduction to the language of botanical ornament.”
—Sixteenth Century Journal
“A significant contribution to the study of plants and gardens represented in Renaissance works of art. . . . The book’s numerous rich color illustrations and succinct passages of analysis provide an excellent starting point for researchers interested in representations of plant life by European artists from the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries.”
“The author writes authoritatively of the lilies of The Virgin, the classical myth of Narcissus and his flower, irises as “messengers from God,” fragrant roses, tulips seen in brocades from Ottomans before the flowers themselves arrived in Europe, the daisies, grasses, and lots more.”
—Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance
11 x 11 inches
150 color illustrations
Imprint: J. Paul Getty Museum