The History of Floral Art

Written by valerie valdez
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The History of Floral Art
Ancient flower design concepts are still used today. (flower_arrangement image by sumos from Fotolia.com)

Flowers have grown on every continent for over 100 million years. Scientists estimate that 270,000 species exist today. Floral design is one of the earliest methods of creative expression. Many flower arranging techniques date back several thousands of years. Ancient influences from Asia, the Mediterranean and Europe still dominate floral art. Western floral design that prospered after WWII often combines the other methods into a contemporary style.

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Egyptian Floral Design

Egyptians first used cut flowers in vases as ornamental pieces, and in human sacrificial ceremonies. The style emphasised a less-is-more approach, with a simple primary colour scheme repeated throughout the design. A row of flowers, lotus blossoms, water lilies, roses and other native flowers lined a vase along with a few buds or leaves. Flowers were never grouped into bunches. A single flower filled a vase with one or two leaf stems beside it. Flowers also denoted wealth and position. Citizens wore simple wreaths in their hair for sacred ceremonies.

Greek Floral Design

The Greek civilisation worshipped art as no culture before or since. Greeks did not only put flowers in vases but displayed and wore them as wreaths, laurels and garlands. Flower- and herb-strewn grounds gave a festive air during ceremonies. Greeks preferred simple and graceful design to a flower's colour or shape. Its fragrance and spiritual connection to their gods were of greater importance. Athletes, poets and leaders received wreaths as rewards. Fruits and flowers created the world's first cornucopia as a symbol of abundance.

Roman Floral Design

The Roman Empire continued the Greek floral ways, only more so. Flowers literally poured from the heavens over festivals, weddings and civic ceremonies to the point that people often walked knee deep in flowers. Wreathes and laurels gained in prominence, elaborate design and extra weight. Romans wove the first flower baskets with a high back and low open front overflowing with colourful, fragrant flowers. Large scarves carried floral bouquets during religious events as offerings to the gods.

Asian Floral Design

Buddhist and Confucius religious teachings influenced Chinese floral design. Before the birth of Christ, flowers in hand-painted pottery adorned temples. Flowers' spiritual connection was more important than size or fragrance. The design Canons of Hsieh Ho, a Chinese artist, stressed colourful yet austere arrangements. The Japanese floral design developed two highly stylised methods. Rikkwa, or standing flowers, replicated nature with arrangements more than 10 feet high of flowers mixed with bare branches, and foliage. The ikebana asymmetrical style emphasised line not colour, creating the concept of flowers in a group of three to represent heaven, earth and man.

Renaissance Floral Design

The Renaissance ushered in a new age of design. Flowers appeared in paintings and woven in tapestry. Floral design became a profession commissioned by wealthy patrons and governments. Large groups of flowers in vases exposed only the blossoms; hiding the stems became the accepted style. Wreathes were not worn but used in homes and churches. Flower wreathes mixed with fruits and pine cones grew in popularity. Renaissance floral design gave the world the Christmas wreath.

Baroque Floral Design

English painter William Hogarth reinvented European floral design with his "Line of Beauty" or S-curve design. The asymmetrical style let the eye flow along the curve as if the flowers moved. It sharply contrasted the straight and parallel-line approach of all floral design up to that point. Arrangements now had a sense of life and excitement instead of static groups of flowers. The S-curve remains a popular floral design concept.

Victorian Floral Design

The Victorian Age is without equal in England's history. New industries, art, literature and music all flourished. Home gardens and lush public ones reflected these new influences. Romanticism took over, and triangular and circular floral arrangements, often using roses in pewter vases, became bigger and grander. Flower shows and garden clubs exploded in popularity. Articles devoted to flower design appeared in English newspapers, and guilds attempted to write the first design manuals.

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