A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Language of Flowers

I've mentioned the language of flowers a couple of times before in this blog and the effect it has on the design of many majolica pieces. The Victorians adored this conceit as it allowed them to communicate complex messages covertly through the use of flowers and bouquets. I recently came across this lovely old image that superficially explains some of the basic floral meanings.


This is certainly a charming print but it doesn't even begin to hint at the complexity of this arcane form of communication. Not only did individual flowers have their meanings but different colors of the same flower had different meanings. On top of this, combinations of flowers had their own meaning.
Take a look at this table from Wikipedia:

Flower
Meaning
AcaciaSecret love
AcanthusArt
AconiteMisanthropy
AgrimonyThankfulness
AloeGrief
AlmondPromise
Amaranth (Globe)Immortal love
AnemoneForsaken, sickness, unfading love
AngrecRoyalty
Apple blossomPreference
ArborvitaeEverlasting friendship
BalmSocial intercourse or sympathy
BalsamineImpatience
Bay wreathGlory
Bumblebee OrchidIndustry
Bellflower"Thinking of you"
Bells of IrelandLuck
Bird's-foot TrefoilRevenge
BoxConstancy
BroomHumility
BulrushDocility
ButtercupRiches
CabbageProfit
Camellia japonicaUnpretending excellence
CampanulaGratitude
Canterbury BellsGratitude
CarnationgeneralFascination; distinction; love
red"My heart aches for you", "Alas! For my poor heart"                                          
whiteSweet and lovely, innocence, pure love, faithfulness
pink"I'll never forget you", "Always on my mind"
yellow"You have disappointed me", rejection,disdain
purpleCapriciousnesswhimsical, changeable, unreliability
mauveDreams of fantasy
striped"No", "Sorry I can't be with you", refusal
solid color"Yes", "Affirmative"
CelandineJoys to come
Cherry blossomA good education
Transience of life (in Japan)
Feminine beauty (in China)
Chestnut"Do me justice"
China asterLove of variety
Chrysanthemumred"I love"
yellowSlighted love
CoreopsisAlways cheerful
CowslipWinning grace
CloverredIndustry
white"I promise"
CorianderLust
DaffodilUncertainty, chivalry, respect or unrequited love
DahliaElegance and dignity
DaisygeneralInnocence, loyal love, purity, faith, cheer, simplicity
redBeauty unknown to possessor
DandelionCoquetry
Eglantine RoseA wound to heal
ElderflowerCompassion
FennelStrength
Forget-me-notTrue love
GeraniumGentility
GorseLove in all seasons
GrassSubmission
HeliotropeDevotion
HibiscusRare beauty, delicate beauty
HollyhockAmbition
HoneysuckleDevoted affection, bonds of love
HouseleekDomestic economy
HydrangeaFrigidnessheartlessness
IvyDependence
Jonquil"Return my affection"
LaurestineA token
LavenderDevotion, distrust
Lemon blossomDiscretion
LettuceCold-hearted
LichenSolitude


Flower
Meaning
Lilacpurplefirst emotion of love
whiteyouthful innocence
LilywhitePurity
scarletHigh-souled aspirations
orangeDesire, passion
Lily of the ValleyTrustworthy
Lime BlossomFornication
LobeliaMalevolence
LotusPurity, chastity and eloquence
Love lies bleedingHopelessness
MagnoliaLove of nature
MallowConsumed by love
MarigoldPain and grief
Epigaea repensWelcome
MignonetteWorth
MintSuspicion
MoonflowerDreaming of love
Morning gloryLove in vain
MulleinGood-nature
NasturtiumPatriotism
Oak leafStrength
OatsMusic
OlivePeace
OrchidRefined beauty
Oxeye daisyPatience
Peach blossomLong-life, generosity, and bridal hope
Pear blossomLasting friendship
PeonyShame, bashfulness
Masculinity, bravery (in Japan)
Pitch pine blossomPhilosophy
Plum blossomBeauty and longevity
PoppygeneralEternal sleep, oblivion, imagination
redPleasure
whiteConsolation, dreams, modern, peace
yellowWealth, success
RoseredTrue love
blueMystery, attaining the impossible, love at first sight
whiteEternal love, silence or innocence, wistfulness, virtue, purity, secrecy, reverence and humility
blackDeath, hatred, farewell, rejuvenation or rebirth
yellowFriendship, jealousy, infidelity, or apology, a broken heart, intense emotion, dying love, extreme betrayal
pinkGrace
dark pinkGratitude
light pinkDesire, passion, joy of life, youth, energy
burgundyunconscious beauty
coral or orangeDesire, passion
lavender(violet)Love at first sight
red and white togetherUnited
red and yellow togetherJoy, happiness and excitement
thornlessLove at first sight
RosemaryRemembrance
RueRegret
Sensitive PlantSensitivity
SnowdropConsolation or hope
Star of BethlehemHope
StrawUnited
SunflowerPure and lofty thoughts
SweetbrierSimplicity
Thorn-appleDisguise
ThistleNobility
ThymeThriftiness
Tulip-treeFame
TulipredDeclaration of love
yellowHopeless love
VioletblueFaithfulness
whiteModesty
ViscariaInvitation to dance
Willow (creeping)Love forsaken
Winged seeds (any kind)Messengers
Witch-hazelA magic spell
WheatWealth and prosperity
Its astonishing how complex this iconography really is. What does this tell us about our favorite majolica designs?
Certainly it's much more than we ever suspected.

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