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The History of Floral Design 

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When you hear the words flower arrangement what do you think of? Flowers in a bowl, basket, or vase probably. Have you ever wondered if flowers were used in arrangements during the 1400s A.D., 1200s A.D. or even during the 400s B.C.? The earliest reliable evidence of how, when, and where flowers, fruits, and leaves were first used by man comes froom the Chinese and early Egyptians. We will take a look at the use of flowers in these cultures and others thru time.

As early as 207 B.C. - 220 A.D. (The Han era) the Chinese had classified and described medicinal herbs. A tradition of philosophical thought, a love of nature, and religious teaching (Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian) meant that the Chinese not only placed cut flowers in water on the alters of their temples since the beginning of the T’ang dynasty A.D. 618-906, but that they have left a legacy beyond price in folk-lore and artefacts of all kinds. The exquisite paintings of blossoms and boughs on silk, scroll, vases, and plate; embroidery, and carvings in wood, ivory, and bronze all express their love and appreciation of flowers.

The teachings of Buddha forbids taking life. So they were sparing in their cuttings of plants. The only time we see reasonably full groups of flowers and leaves are in the highly esteemed basket arrangements. Even with this restraint the Chinese always arranged naturally. Most of the flowers and leaves used had a symbolic meaning. The pear, peach tree, and bamboo, express the importance of long life. Orchids, tiger lily, and pomegranate are emblems of fertility. But the one flower honored above all others was the peony, "known as the king of flowers." It was an emblem of good fortune, wealth and high position.

The Egyptians used plant material for decorative purposes as far back as 2,500 B.C. as carved stone reliefs and painted wall decorations bear witness. Flowers were cut and placed in vases, that were sometimes glazed and decorated faience. Often with sports for holding flowers. These pots are strikingly similar to these used thousands of years later in Persia, and also to seventeenth century Delft tulip pots in Holland. All Egyptian flower arrangement/designs whether for the decoration of tables, burials, or processions were highly stylized. Religious beliefs influenced the choice of flowers ans foliage. The lotus flower aka water lily. Was considered sacred to the goddess Isis and so during the reign of the Pharoahs this flower, the palm tree, and papyrus plant were most used. Other flowers found intombs and are still available today are; the blue scilla, "Iris Sibirice", poppy-flowered anemone, narcissus, delphinium, and the rose.

During the Greek and Rome era flowers were lavishly used, but not in pots or vases. They were used mostly as wreaths and garlands. Petals were freely strewn upon floors and beds. Oak leaves, acorns, ivy, laurel, parsley, bay and yew were the most widely used foliage. Hyacinth, rose, violets, honeysuckle and lilies were favored for their scent. Larkspur, marigolds and tulips were choosen for their color, form, and shape.

The Byzantine Empire (500-1453 A.D.) continued with much of the Greek and Roman culture, while western Europe was in chaos. Their particular contribution to floral decoration was the cone shape design. Long slim tapering cones of foliage were construted and placed in urns or chalices and were decorated with fruits and flowers of jewel colors. They used lilies, daisies, carnations, cypress, and pine. They also used ribbons, spiralling them round their foliage and flower cones. Sometimes with a low container there would be a central stem from which symmetrical flowers or fruit were placed at interavals up the stem. Arrangememnts were highly stylized and formal.

After the fall of the Roman Empires the "Dark Ages" enveloped Europe. So with so much chaos there was little if any time for extra nicetties. It was not until 1000 A.D. that there was an interest once again in the use of flowers and plants for decoration. Monasteries and churches, beinig the chief centers of learning, cultivated plants, flowers, and herbs for medicenal purposes as well as for food and decoration. Crusaders returning from the Middle East brought with them unusual flowers and plants previously unknownin Europe.

Durning the Italian Renaissance the art of flower arrangements was reborn. Durning this time different styles of arrangements evolved all over Europe. The renowened Italian gardens grew flowers for their beauty alone. The renaissance era reached it’s climax in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Containers of heavy venetian glass, marble, and bronze were used suitable for flower arrangements in this time period. Earthenware jugs and other articles in everyday use were chosen for simpler arrangements.

The flower designs were warm in color and classical in form. Accents of cool blues and greens were used to give satesfying contrasts. A feature of the designs was the addition of tropical fruits. The Lilium Candidum (madonna lilu) symbolizing chastity and fertility, the white Rosa X Alba and red Rosa Gallica were those used (the cabbage rose was not yet grown in Itly). Pinks, narcissus, jasmine, iris, french marigolds, pansies, rosemary, and cornflowers were amongst many of the flowers used.

After the influence of the church declined, the backgrounds in which flowers were placed in the late Renaissance are shown to have been rich brocades and velvets, fine gardens with stone balustrades and canopies; armour is also sometimes portrayed. This gives the impression of grandeur and richness. This is in great contrast to the early religious Renaissance where flowers were used with restraint in modest containers such as jugs or ecclesiaslical vessels and for their symbolic significance.

The book Sienas’ Flora - overo cultura di fiori by P. Giovanni Battista, which was published in Rome in 1633, contaiins chapters on flower culture, gardening and information about flower decoration. The advice he gives on the conditioning and care of flowers after cuttiing is consistent with what we still practice. Battista mentions spraying the plant material with water which is still practiced some what today. The arrangement style was a fairly loose mass of flowers with the most important flower often placed at the top.

As you can see the art of floral design has a rich worldwide history. Wood carvings, bas-reliefs, tapestries, paintiings, excavated remains, and many other tangible artifacts tell us that flowers were used for enjoyment and have always played an impotant part in the lives of people.





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