Friday, April 8, 2011

Rose from the dead...

I'm so sorry about the title. It was just so much more entertaining than "A Brief History of Roses Through the Study of Period Paintings." I couldn't help myself.

Anyway...as with most things, I didn't start out to write about roses from the past. And yes, I mean roses--the iconic flower of love, friendship, and anything else you might care to mention, depending on the color. To be honest, roses aren't even my favorite flower. I prefer peonies, gladiolas, and irises. However, my latest project is the pink dress pictured below, smartly accessorized by a straw hat trimmed with--you guessed it--roses.


Spot the roses? Seems pretty and appropriate to go with a pink dress.


That got me thinking, though. That's where I got a little carried away. My friends tell me that I overthink things...and this is totally proving them right. Anyway, I started wondering about roses throughout history. If nothing else, I got to look at a bunch of pretty paintings, and it helped me kill some time of a morning, so I figured, why not share? So here we go.

Obviously roses have been around for a heck of a long time. In Romeo and Juliet, which is thought to have been written between 1590 and 1595, Juliet monologues, "That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet." My interest in their existence dates significantly later, however. Namely, how were they seen, used, and worn in the 18th and 19th centuries?

pastoral frances boucher 1761
Pastoral by Bouchard, 1761


This charming couple (and their goat) presides over a basket of flora. A couple roses nestle among the blossoms, and the young lady has affixed a full-blown rose to her bodice. Hopefully she was mindful of the thorns, first.

rosalba carriera 18th c
By Rosalba Carriera, date unknown


A little more formal, this painting (Mme. de Pompadour?) shows another take on roses in the 18th century. The subject wears a garland about her neck, with a lovely pale pink rose blossom taking center stage.

marie-antoinette-elisabeth-louise-vigee-lebrun
Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun


I love Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun's work. She painted radiant ladies with a soft, glowing touch that makes every painting just delicious to look at. This portrait of Marie Antoinette looks to me like it was done in the 1780s, going by the clothes. The roses are obvious, both in the hand, and on the table.

1812 fashion plate
A fashion plate c. 1812


When it came to the early 19th century, I was hard-pressed to find examples of roses in illustrations. Certainly they seemed less prolific than in earlier paintings, both as background decor and fashion statements. This plate from 1812 shows a woman in full evening dress, with a coronet of roses in her hair.

1812 fashion plate2
A fashion plate c. 1812


While I saw numerous examples of roses and other flowers on ladies' dresses in the works of 18th century artists, no such trend appeared in the early 19th century works I looked at. However, the bonnet on the top left looks to have a cluster of roses at the crown, proof that somewhere, someone thought roses were pretty to use on clothing in some way.

madame vincent 1820 boilly
Madame Vincent by Louis-Léopold Boilly, c. 1820


Look, look! Roses, and there's a yellow one. The beginning of the 1800s was a good time for roses. Empress Josephine purchased the Chateau de Malmaison in 1799, and hired a number of horticulturists to help her landscape it in the English style. And when I say "help her," I don't imagine she was out laying turf herself, but you get the idea. One of those horticulturists, Andre Dupont, had a great love of roses which Josephine came to share. Her goal was to collect all known roses from around the world (no doubt facilitated by her husband's global escapades). Between 1817 and 1824, Pierre-Joseph Redoute published Les Roses in three volumes, containing his paintings of Josephine's roses. A Picture of Roses has nearly 200 of these illustrations available online, and it's absolutely fascinating to see the different varieties so precisely depicted.

1860 - Mrs János Matta
Mrs. János Matta by Miklós Barabás, 1860


One of my favorite uses of roses--in the hair! I'm a little biased, but I think there's little as lovely as a softly-colored rose in a coiffure of smooth, dark hair. One thing I can say from experience, though, is that it's not easy to pin big fat blooms like that in one's hair.

adelina patti winterhalter
Adelina Patti, by Frans Xavier Winterhalter, 1863


See, like I said--dark hair and roses. It's a thing with me. In any case, the acclaimed operatic soprano above wears not just a rose in bloom, but a cluster of buds as well.

Roses were also pinned on dresses for special occasions. In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott writes about Meg having "A cluster of tea-rose buds at the bosom..." of a borrowed dress, and all three younger sisters wore, "blush roses in hair and bosom," to Meg's wedding.

1876 Godeys plate
Godey's 1876


And, because if something is worth doing, it's worth overdoing--check out the pink and white confection. Forget just pinning flowers to our bosoms, ladies. We're going to festoon our entire bodies with them. And, if you scoff, take a look at this recreation of that particular gown. If that's not an inspiration to start sticking roses to everything you own, I don't know what is!

1 comment:

  1. That's an intereseting point to ponder. Compared to modern roses the old cultivated roses really earned their title of "Queen of Flowers" as they would only bloom once during summer and kiss the world with their magnificent scent. At the turn of the 19th century however there was not only a change in clothing, but also in gardening as horticulturists focused from the formal and very showy rococo gardens to the landscape gardens and arboretums. I wonder wether this focus on simplicity and naturalness was one of the reason why we don't see many roses in early 19th century paintings/fashionsplates.
    And by the way, I like the pun in the headline;)
    Sabine

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