Portrait of Charlotte Beatrix Strick van Linschoten, Mattheus Verheyden, c. 1755
Persistent link: hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.7024
For centuries, the people used real flowers to decorate clothing – with floral wreaths, bouquets and brooches. It added a fragrant touch to any attire, personalized an outfit and gave it a sublime scent.
It was during 12th century China that fabrics beautifully embroidered with flowers and scenes of nature, were used in clothing. This trend quickly swept through many other Middle Eastern and Asian countries. By the end of the the century Japan was also using intricate floral embroidery on kimonos.[3.]
However, when people really started to use flowers and to turn them into superb fabric prints? Let's try to figure it out! So, this will be a story about the birth of the floral print. And yet, it will also be a story about flower decor in different cultures, in different times and in different ways.
Ancient Egyptians are known as the first florists. They created a designs of very highly stylized wreaths, garlands, and centerpieces for big events such as banquets, processions, burials, and temple offerings. In addition, flower arrangements were a luxury only available for the nobility and royals.
Characteristics of Egyptian floral design include order, simplicity, and repetition of a particular pattern. Flowers, fruits, and foliage were arranged in vessels like spouted vases and baskets. It is quite peculiar, because the Egyptians rarely showed a flower's stem and every blossom was flanked by additional leaves or buds.
Most often they used roses, acacia, poppies, violets, jasmine, lilies, and narcissus. They made their selections based on the symbolic meanings that they attributed to each flower, and the lotus blossom, in particular, was considered sacred. They believed its yellow center and white petals signified Ra, the Sun God, and its use was ubiquitous. [4.]
Lotus blossoms were mainly used to decorate floral burial tributes and, of course, they were used as a symbol of beauty and as some kind of fashion accessories.
The Floral Design of Greeks, Romans & Byzantines
Ancient Greek and Roman women used flowers in her hair, wore fragrant flower crowns, and garlands of flowers during festive occasions. By the way, the flowers as a decorations were used by men too.
Three cornerstones of Greek flower design are the garland, the wreath, and the cornucopia or Horn of Plenty. Wreaths were especially important, and officially were made by florists. In Greek design, the flower’s color was never as important as its fragrance and symbolism associated with it. Greek flower arrangements included hyacinths, honeysuckle, roses, lilies, tulips, larkspur and marigolds. They also made use of decorative herbs like rosemary, flowering basil and thyme. These flowers were obtained from the trade. The Romans also had a lasting impact on our floral heritage, with Dies Rosationi (day of rose-adornment), a tradition in which they commemorated the dead by placing flowers at burial sites.
During the times of Byzantine Empire, Roman garlands were changed by making the foliage band more narrow and alternated flowers and fruits with the foliage. They also made spiral and conical designs, using clusters of blossoms at regular intervals. Flowers that were popular during this time were daisies, lilies, carnations, cypress, and pine. Basically, anything that was gold and jewel-toned, which represented the colored, mosaic tiles popular during this time. [4.]
The Floral Design of Medieval & Renaissance Era
During the Middle Ages flowers were used mainly in churches and monasteries. Monks were the medieval florists who used flowers for medicinal reasons. While there was little floral decoration, fragrant flowers were sued to freshen the air and make garlands and wreaths. Medieval monks were gardeners who started to cultivate many exotic herbs and flowers, thus paving the way for the next era and its flourishing times of floral design.
The Renaissance period saw a continuance of some of the characteristics of Greek and Roman styles. Fruits and cones, and foliage such as olive, ivy, and laurel were often arranged with the flowers. The most favorite flowers used in Renaissance era were daisies, lily of the valley, lilies, violets, roses, primroses. During this period were introduced the first Christmas wreaths. Floral designs were naturalistic at the beginning, but they became more ornate during the later Renaissance.
During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Venice and Florence were renowned for their sumptuous velvet fabrics incorporating gold and silver threads with large floral patterns after the pomegranate motif. [13. ]
First fabrics with floral designs appeared during the late Middle Ages as Italian merchants traded regularly with Ottoman textile manufacturers and brought sumptuous woven velvet fabrics to Europe. Eventually Italian weavers figured out how to copy patterns of those Ottoman velvet fabrics, and began to produce luxurious textiles with organic motifs like pomegranates and vines. These early floral motifs, however, were quite ornate, heavy and stylized. [9.]
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My name is Edīte Parute and I am a fashion historian and researcher from Latvia, association member at "The Association of Dress Historians" (UK) and author of the book "Stila un modes enciklopēdija"/"Encyclopedia of Style and Fashion" (2010) as well as author of many publications.