History of Floral Design
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.