reading up & sketching down; roses in art ….?
Some historical fragments:
Botanical symbolism has its origin in the literature of antiquity, where plants are often used in metaphors for virtue and vice. In classical mythology, human beings are transformed into plants as a reward or punishment, as in the story of Narcissus, the vain youth who fell in love with his own reflection and was changed into a flower that bears his name.
Religious writings also provided a wealth of plant symbolism. The Bible and the Apocrypha contain many references to trees, fruits, and flowers in moralizing similes and parables.
Saint Bernard (1090–1153) described Mary as “the violet of humility, the lily of chastity, the rose of charity…” These attributes are often depicted in scenes from the life of the Virgin, particularly the Annunciation, where a vase of lilies decorates the Virgin’s chamber.
A rose held by the Virgin also alludes to her role as the bride of Christ, as in the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Two Angels by Fra Filippo Lippi.
Far from the virtuous connotation of a rose in the hand of the Virgin Mary are the rose petals strewn in Venus’ lap and the wreath of myrtle—both attributes of the goddess and known from classical texts as emblems of venereal love. The latter is also a nuptial symbol. The ivy growing up a tree in the background, meanwhile, augurs marital fidelity. Lotto’s patron, probably familiar with these emblems, would have been able to “read” the image for its hidden meaning.
Preliminary conclusion: there is no consensus regarding the meaning of roses in art. Which might mean Gertrud Stein was wrong, when claiming: A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. Or maybe not?
sketcher, reader, writer