Saying it with Flowers

Last Sunday, the Pre-Raphaelite Society celebrated Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB)Day on Twitter. This inspired me to post a few of my favourite Pre-Raphaelite paintings to my own Twitter account.

One of them was Soul of the Rose (aka My Sweet Rose) by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917).
souloftheroseI don’t know why I like the painting so much, which is to say, I have never thought about why I like it so much. Let’s have a quick try here.

The woman, who has a maternal look about her, also has beautiful red hair. I especially like how it is tied up. I’m sure there is a name for that style, which I wish I knew.

She also wears a rather lovely gown. I can’t quite tell if the design is of peacock eyes or flowers. If the former that would be a bit of a warning in regards her vanity. Let’s hope it is the latter.

The house that we catch a glimpse of just above her head seems an old one. It, along with the woman’s gown, places the scene somewhere in the past.

It seems I like motherly women who lived before my time, then.

There is one aspect of the painting I haven’t touched upon yet – the woman and the rose.

The painting catches the woman not just as she inhales the rose’s scent but experiences something akin to an orgasm as it makes her cheeks flush, her hand press against the wall, and her neck arch.

The rose, then, may be seen as no ‘mere’ rose but a metaphor for her love. Who might he be?

We don’t know. And it is very debatable as to whether the lover would even be a he to begin with. After all, the rose is a metaphor for the clitoris.

I knew this before I posted Soul of the Rose on Twitter. However, I have to confess that I hadn’t made the connection between the fact and the rose in the painting before someone said that it represented ‘the least subtle lesbian subtext in history’.

Unfortunately, I have no idea if this is true or not as I don’t know who invented the rose-as-metaphor-for-clitoris and when.

Unfortunately, The Pre-Raphaelite Language of Flowers, which I was inspired to start reading as a result of PRB Day, didn’t tell me.

However, this is the only black mark (if it is even that, which it is not) against it. The book is a lovely walk through a selection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings with a short piece of text accompanying each one and discussing the flower imagery within it.

If you like Pre-Raphaelite art or are interested in the historic meanings of flowers this book is well worth a place on your book shelf or coffee table. The paintings are beautiful and the text informative. I will conclude this post by picking out some examples.

Ecce Ancilla Domini (D G Rossetti)
“In his hand [Gabriel] carries a white lily with two full blooms for God and the Holy Spirit and one opening bud for the unborn Christ. The white lily or Lilium candidum was first associated with a fifth century legend of Mary’s assumption.”

Tree of Forgiveness (Edward Burne-Jones)
“Along with the almond blossoms-a traditional symbol of hope-Burne Jones scattered blue periwinkles, known in Italian as fiore de morte [flower of death], on the ground near Demophoön’s feet. Since ancient times, pink and white periwinkles were prized as an aphrodisiac, but in medieval England the deep blue flower decorated children’s caskets and was woven into garlands to crown prisoners condemned to death.”

By-the-bye, why do artists never portray body hair?

Clytie (George Frederick Watts)
“In classical mythology the heliotrope commemorates the tragic demise of the water nymph Clytie… [Apollo] took pity on [Clytie] and transformed her into a heliotrope, with a sinuous stalk and a bright blossom that moved from east to west each day, following the course of the sun.”

The Pre-Raphaelite Language of Flowers by Debra N. Mancoff at Amazon

Picture Sources
Soul of the Rose: Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood
Ecce Ancilla Domini: Wikipedia
Tree of Forgiveness: Lady Lever Art Gallery
Clytie: The Victorian Web

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