The History of Art And The Curious Lives of Famous Painters



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Obscure Symbolic Meaning of Flowers in Western Art History

A beautiful rose, a white lily, a weed, a morning glory,  an orchid—all are charmingly decorative to the average viewer. For painters of the Gothic, Early Renaissance and High Renaissance eras, flowers were part of a rich visual symbolism. In a culture of restricted literacy symbolic imagery was vital in helping to spiritually enlighten the rabble. Narrative paintings, with their layer upon layer of vivid symbolism, provided instruction to the uneducated peasants who craved scriptural guidance. According to Charles Baudelaire "The whole visible universe is but a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination will give a relative place and value; it is a sort of pasture which the imagination must digest and transform."

Paintings throughout Western history have been used as guides in illuminating the divine mysteries of Gods Holy Word.  Flowers of every variety are prominently featured in painting throughout Western art history.

Byzantine, Gothic and Early Renaissance paintings are rich in philosophical and Christian symbolism regarding flowers.

White Lily - a flower used as the emblem of the Virgin; the white color of the petals stand for the purity of her body and the golden anthers the radiance of her soul.  Also symbolizes the resurrection

Orchids represent jealousy, suspicion,  and deceit

Rose symbolizes the Virgin Mary.  A thornless white rose is a symbol of the Virgin Mary's purity, untainted by sin. The Virgin is often depicted surrounded by roses. The rose also represents the wounds of Christ. Roses are symbolic of  true love, courtly love,  and eternal love. The rose is also the emblem of  Rosalina of Villeneuve, Saint Acisclus, Our Lady of Sorrows and  Saint Hermengild.

Tulips symbolize wealth, prosperity, commerce, trade

The Rose - a flower which was used as the emblem of Mary's love of God.

 Lily represents purity, virginity and is often help by the Virgin Mary. The flower is also associated with St. Anthony's purity.

Iris represents Spring, regeneration, replenishment

Lavender symbolizes desire, vice, wantonness, loss of innocence (medieval prostitutes signaled their availability by wearing a sprig of lavender in their hair) village life, the peasant class

Dandelion is symbolic of innocence, childhood, nostalgia, longing for the past

Violet symbolizes courtly love, courtship, spring, innocence, virtue

The Meaning of Sacred Symbols in Paintings. Most prominently featured  symbols and their meaning:

The  Serpent

Good Shepherd


Adam and Eve



Mythological Creatures


Virgin Mary


The Four Evangelists

The Anchor

The Apostles



The Cross

Architectural Elements



The Saints









Household Object

Clothing and Accessories


Popular Questions About Art History

How did African art and artifacts impact modern art?

How did Raphael die?

What was the impact of Japanese Prints on Post Immpressionist painters in the late 19th century?

What is the difference between Italian Renaissance art and Northern Renaissance art?

What was the impact of the iconoclast on European art?

How did the Black Death impact European art history? 

What was the influence of Classical humanism on the Renaissance?

How did the Inquisition impact European art history?

What was the influence of the Medici Academy on Renaissance painters? 

How did the Bonfire of the Vanities impact 
Italian Renaissance"

What is Sfumato?

Who were the greatest painters of the Renaissance?

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