Random writing inspired by pre-Raphaelite paintings

Other bloggers I’ve noticed do this thing of getting random photos off Pinintrest  and writing about them. I love the  idea but have two reasons for not being able to do exactly that – one is that I have no idea how to use Pinintrest  – two, that it is illegal to use other people’s photos. But I have always loved paintings, and felt inspired by them, and I have   e decided to do the same as them but using paintings instead of photographs. I may start to do this all the time and use all sorts of paintings – but this first day I am using pre-raphaelites – there are so many of them and they have inspired me since I was very young. You will find a lot of these ones are John William Waterhouse – and I know the real story behind almost all of them. 




She laid her head against the crack in the plaster, and listened. Her dark, sleek hair, tied into a silken bunch, was pushed to one side – the lines about her mouth spoke hatred – her brows were drawn together in a slow frown, a realisation, half an acceptance and half a resistance, of sorrow – and all was contorted with regret, bitterness. She averted those eyes, full of a dark flame, which hitherto had been fixed upon the crack – and glanced with coldness, with disbelief, with incredulous bitterness, at a necklace, all freshwater pearls, with little silver balls and pieces of lapis-lazuli between, hanging upon the door. Something in her gaze, her posture, shrunk away. From love? From a knowledge of what she did not want to have a knowledge of? She was intent – unable to draw herself away from the crack. There was determination in her face – in her chin that was slightly put forward – and yet there was hopelessness.


A Blue Glass Bowl


She looked at him, as she raised the bowl to her lips – her gaze pointed and serious – Really? Should I do this? Remember this moment – are you sure we want to go through with this? He nodded slowly. Once more she raised the glass dish – once more she gazed into his face, questioning. Do your realise what we are doing? 

‘I realise,’ he replied – out-loud, unlike her – she had spoken with looks. She glanced at the sea out of the large, rounded window beside her – as though asking the waves what to do. They rolled on, steady, the first like the next. She glanced at the wood of the window pane – it was steady also, and still – of course, it was wood. She glanced down at the liquid in the bowl – it was clear as crystal – from it, unlike from the waves, unlike from the wood, came an opinion. There is was, so clear, so tempting, calling her. She sipped.





It was twilight. The last rays of the sun fell dim and golden about – the shadows in the trees were growing darker. Light and shadow made the scene.

In a clearing in the forest, one birch tree shot up, silvery, from a ground scattered with the bright faces of flowers. Beside the birch was a girl. She was dressed in robes as white as the moon, which rose now, thin and fragile looking, for as yet day remained and it had not yet earned full shimmering power over the forest. Her feet were bare upon the flowery turf – a trail of ragged brown hair once soft, hung down her back, and her head was wreathed with a wilted crown of leaves. Her hands were tied tightly to the lower half of the tree, forcing her to bend uncomfortably low. Her eyes were shut – it was as if she wanted to shun the last rays of sunlight, and the brightness of the flowers below – because for her they held no pleasure – for her, a dim veil seemed to hang over all, and to see them there, glinting faintly from behind the darkness, bright and smiling for others to see, but offering no comfort for her, made them seem mocking – and she shut them out. There was suffering in her face – not suffering from the hurting tightness of the chains, nor from the un-comfort of bending low, but from inside. And yet, she seemed resigned to that suffering, as the sun was resigned to its fate of drawing back every night to shadow – and she trusted, not to hope, for hope, like white figures in the distance, had left her – but to sorrow, and put herself in his hands.

Regal Haughtiness


All turned to the lady. She was standing, richly dressed, in the darkest corner of the room – she stepped forward now. A light smile – more like a mere hint that she was smiling in the inside, than a real smile on the outside, hung about her faintly pouted lips, red as pomegranate jewels. Her eyebrows, light gold as the hair that hung, wispy as faint strips of cloud at sunset, were raised above her pale, smooth eyelids, hiding eyes regally and haughtily cast down. The opal fixed on her high forehead by a black silken string glinted tauntingly. Her expression seemed to say – now, finally, I am looked at – what will they say now? I have not been consulted so far, though all of what they have said depends on me. It is now that my turn to have some power comes. But I will not speak – they may be in suspense a moment longer – t’will do them good. 

‘My Lady -‘ she turned toward him, revealing blue eyes savoured at this moment with a sharpness.


‘What do you say?’

The hinting of enjoyment about the corners of her mouth widened. ‘Yes, you are wanting to know that, aren’t you. And I will tell you, by and by.’

The Letter 26eba848dcffcd4236dd993eaa8a923a.jpg

A small voice called – she looked round. In a little brick alcove, sparsely grown with ivy, stood a little girl. She was dressed in a frilled frock covered with tiny rosebuds, and she had curls as bright as the sun and blue eyes. She was wearing a necklace of pale green stones; round her face and her frizzy gold curls was an overly large dairymaid’s bonnet. She held a letter in her hand.

‘Please m’am, here is a letter for you.’ Her blue eyes were trusting and expectant.

The tall girl took the letter out of her hand, and looked it over.

‘For you,’ said the girl ‘read it.’

‘Who sent it? My mother.’

‘I see. Have you anything sharp about you?’

The little girl took off her green glass bead necklace, and handed it to the taller girl.

‘It fastens with a hook,’. The girl stripped the envelope open, and took out the contents. The little one stood on tiptoe in her brown boots to read it. The taller girl nodded, and then took her hand.

‘Come along then.’


Cold Glass      72ee88ed72111e3d319f4df0f0fda231

The marble floors were cool beneath her bare feet as she walked down, and the pattern of black and white made her head spin slightly. She moved along softly and noiselessly, through the half light of the hall, and dropped down before the great shiny mirror that stood there, her soft white silks spreading on the floor, showing up snowy against the white check parts of the tiling – and she had thought a moment ago nothing could be whiter than that. Throwing back her head, she ran her fingers through the sweep of ebony black hair that hung down her back, glinting even in that dimness. The air was perfectly still; the only sounds or breaths of breeze were caused by her skirts – but they was icy sounds, icy movements, like the floor, like the cold smooth glass of the mirror. She looked at her reflection; a face of fair skin, with dark eyes beautiful behind half-closed lids, and she sighed, remembering one day. A tear glistened on her cheek – she made no attempt to brush it away, and it fell warm and wet upon her skirts, and she felt glad of its melting warmness. She looked harder at the reflection – one seeing it without knowledge of what it had seen – and endured – would have thought it fair – thought, like her one day, that the owner of it would live to have a true love, one who, perhaps, when lured by her beauty, would notice elegancies of mind also, and for this reason their love would be true. But that reflection would be deceiving them – as it had deceived her so many times.


Sea Spray


She stood, and the wind whirled her dusk blue skirts, shaggy as the waves ahead of her, sending them whipping, wet with spray, against her – her hair red as timber twirled round her head and blew over her face, and she peeped out from between the strands and watched the green-blue waves smash themselves against the sharp cliffs of rock, bringing a great ship with them. She half feared for a moment that the wetness on her face was tears – she could not, would not weep for him – but it was sea spray only, and she gathered her skirts about her and stood shivering against the gail, watching the ship break to pieces in the ragged torrent of waves and sea. ‘Yes, break it,’ she whispered, and felt calm – calm and ready to watch – calmer than the waves, though her heart broke inside her even as they broke against the beach and the rocks – even as the ship splintered in the water. The sea came up and drenched her leather slippers – she pulled them off and stood barefoot on the stones, some rounded, others deadly sharp. ‘I will not shed a tear for him,’ she told herself. A piece of timber washed up on the beach beside her – she grabbed it, and breaking off a piece, enclosed it in the leather purse at her waist. Then, she began to walk out – out into the lashing, thrashing water, boiling with spray and foam, and her skirts were drenched with the straggly slashes of rain and sea. She walked on till she was near the sinking ship, and she called through the noise of the gale. A man steering looked down at her through the spray – and she looked at him, a meaning glance, as the waves crashed down over her. Then the tears fell – and fast.


The Taste of Primroses


He thought back to the days when she had been a young, flower-decked girl, coming with the others to laugh and sing and worship the gods in the forest clearings. He remembered the day he met her – on just one of those rampages with the other girls – he had come with  them being new to the town and wishing to get to know some of the girls.

She turned her fair, blooming face toward him, putting her hands to her head almost protectively, and fingering her soft, thick dark hair adorned with poppies, and the eyes green as the shaded olive leaves of the forest looked seriously and questioningly – a little nervously – into his. She was wearing a loose purple garment that enhanced the faint, delicate pinkness of her cheeks – the expression of her mouth was frail, graceful, quavering; sweet – like the taste of the primroses that grew by the stream. Her voice was like that too. So faint and delicate and sweet.

And now? Where was she now – who was she now? What now were her feelings toward him? He knew the answer to that question – but he would speak it, not even in his own mind – it was too painful a knowledge to be acknowledged as a knowledge – he could not bear to think it. How soft a young creature she had been then – incapable of any hard feelings. And so she might have been still – had not – he slammed his hand onto the table and sighed.




One by one they came – one by one the golden vases were emptied. Each time, the bearer felt as though her soul was emptied. There were girls in muslins the colour of sea depths – others wore garments of the colour of the olive leaves – others wore mulberry red – some were red haired, other dark haired or gold haired – but yet, all felt the same as the clear water felt into the pot. Then they walked away, carrying the vases upon their heads or shoulders, or in their hands – silent, excepting what must come, and would come.

Till the last approached. She had auburn hair tied loosely up behind her head, and she wore a cloth the colour of woody shadows, hanging gracefully in loose waves about her. She came to the edge of the pot, holding the golden jar ready for pouring – and then, something in her face changed – and she lowered the pot and set it, steadily, upon the floor. The other girls gazed at her, astounded.

‘Desdemona – aren’t you going to put in your share?’

‘No,’ the girl replied, simply. ‘And you are not going to put in yours either,’ seizing the other girl’s water container and pouring the content onto the floor.



‘Why? You know we all have to,’.

‘Why do we have to? Look at that fearful face – those gaping jaws, and through them the water flows, down, down. And likewise will flow your courage, your self-respect. Will you let it happen?’

‘It has to happen.’



She was the daughter of the meadow and the countryside. Her hair was the sunlight that streams through the trees, and the darker patches were of the shadows in the forest, and of that substance also were her eyes – dark and flashing as the river waters. Her skin was of the wild roses that tangled her skirts. Her lips were the rose hips that come afterward upon the prickling briar. She was born of nature and she lived by nature. She cared for nobody but the wild animal and the rambling plants. To others she was heartless – she had no heart but what she found in the wild grass of the plains and the soil of the forest. But she was honey sweet as those wild roses – and she had an edge as sharp as the thorns growing upon them.

Guarding her Own


There she will sit ’till time and time are done’ and there the waves will lap, softly, drawing back to leave the pebbles glistening and shining like unearthly jewels. There ever will she sit, looking out with sea blue eyes tinged with a faint longing, through the smoothed archways in the rock, toward the horizon. The she will sit, guarding what is her own. There she will sit, a’coming of her long, sea-smooth red hair, and singing, with a sound like the whispering waves, and the pebbles, drawn back, and flung, with a sound of thousands, of millions, of eternities. And she wraps it about her – that of the many changing colours of the sea, that that shimmers like the pebbles, and like what is in the silver bowl that she guards for her own – down there, she sits.



She sits there, upon the harsh rock, because it is what They always expected her to do. She plucks the harpstrings because it is what They always wanted her to do. And ever since she was pearl and coral, lying at the bottom of the ocean, Their wish has been her command. She is one of Them now – and cannot escape, has never wanted to escape. She is a Siren – must be a Siren – alway has been a Siren. She cannot escape now.

She saw the ship smash against the rocks and sink, slowly – what was left of it. And she saw him fall, splashing and tossing into the waves, and come toward her. Still she plucked, and she had always been taught to do – until he grasped the rock, and looked up, hollow eyed, pleading and desperate into her face. He did not know who she was – but he saw her, and knew it was she who had wrecked his companion and the only thing that bore him on and gave him life. And he knew, too, that she could save him, by only reaching out one slender hand, white as sea froth, and pulling him up – and he asked her with his eyes, pleaded with her. She looked down at him, and tasted, as she did so, something she had never tasted before – and she felt as though her heartstrings – something she had never known she had before, would be plucked if she plucked the instrument any more – so she set it to rest on the rock, and gazed down, bewildered, sympathetic. Sympathy did not belong to a Siren, and she could not bear it. She shook her head – she could not. They did not want her to.


The background with the arch in the rock is the same in this picture as in the one before. That is interesting – perhaps it was a real spot which the artist was fond of painting.)


Tell me whether you think posts like this should become a regular thing!



History of Flowers in Art Essay: Part One


In this essay I will be talking about the history of flowers and plants in art. I will discuss  the difference between flowers that are used for a pattern, and flowers painted as though they were people, each as separate individuals.

Now, we might say that flowers are naturally a sort of art. Think about what flowers are really for, and why they are beautiful – they are to attract bees – they are, in short, art for bees. This may seem a humorous idea, but it is, in fact, true. And so when we see an artistic representation of a plant – if we study the flower or tree – we may often see that it does naturally tend toward a pattern or form. Flowers can be converted into art – into a pattern – simply by accentuating the natural patterns that they are shaped by in your painting/sketch/water-colour/cut-out/woodcut. We can find an example of this in the paintings of flowers in medieval manuscripts.

In the Medieval age, it was common to decorate books, (especially bibles) by painting pictures of plants, often swirling, climbing plants – typically vines, ivy or acanthus – trailing round the letters, and little scenes, many of them involving flowers, in the margins. The flowers painted often symbolized things – they might even sometimes be used to tell the same story as was written is the script in pictures – for instance, the reason for using vines, as well because they were swirly and good for growing around the letters, may have been because vines meant grapes, grapes meant wine, and wine symbolized blood of Christ, therefore vines were a good thing to use in religious books, which were one of the main things that they illustrated with flowers and pictures.

We called the books decorated like this Illuminated Manuscripts, and they were generally done by monks, who were the most – often the only – educated people at that time. They were not only educated in reading and writing, but we the doctors of the time, and knew how to use herbs for healing.

Ms 2617 Emilia in her garden, Plate 22, from 'La Teseida', by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75), 1340-41 (vellum)

Here are a few of the meanings of the plants commonly used in medieval manuscripts:

Pinks – Crucifixion (this is because pinks smell like cloves, cloves look like nails, and nails were used in the crucifixion)

Columbine – Holy Ghost (‘columba’ means ‘dove’ in Latin, and the Colombine is sometimes though to look like a flying bird.)

Lily – Mary (the white petals are said to symbolize her purity, the gold stamens the radiance of her soul)

Lily of the Valley Sometimes said to mean return of happiness, but in medieval manuscripts it is generally associated with the Virgin. It is sometimes called ‘Our Lady’s Tears, because it is said to have sprouted where her tears fell at the foot of the Cross. The blooms do look like falling tears.

Vines – Everlasting Life (Everlasting life of course associated with Christ, and Christ with grapes for reason already stated in above paragraph)



The picture shown above is from ‘À Mon Seul Désir’, one of the six early renaissance tapestries of The Lady and the Unicorn. Like many other floral tapestries, it is ‘mille-fleur’, meaning, ‘thousand flowers’. Mille-fleur means that instead of putting behind your figures a realistic landscape with hills and trees, as in paintings of the same time, you put a background decorated with lots and lots of intricate flowers and leaves, so as to give an impression of a meadow. The Lady and the Unicorn is an interesting case because it is different from most of the others in that the mille-fleur in the background does not look as if it is part of the picture – or rather, not part of the scene. In The Three Fates (another mille-fleur tapestry) it looks as if the figures are really standing on flowery grass, and the flowers behind them are just supposed to be in the distance. But in ‘À Mon Seul Désir’, and the other Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, the flowers play the part of an abstract pattern behind the figures – they seem to stand on a little island – they are really standing on the flowers under their feet – could they move they would be able to pluck those flowers – but not the flowers behind them. For one thing, the flowers behind are on red, not on green as though they were growing – also, birds fly against the red background as thought it were the sky. The flowers themselves, too, are drawn more as though they were a pattern, and less as though they were really growing.



The Three Fates

Mille – Fleur

In the works of Botticelli, also, we can find this interesting difference between flowers realistically portrayed – painted as you would paint a portrait of a person’s face – and stylised flowers used for a pattern. Flowers play a prominent part in many of Botticelli’s most famous works – especially my favourite of all his paintings, Primavera, or, in English, ‘spring’. An interesting thing about the nature in this painting, is that it seems almost like architecture – the trees above Venus bend into an arch above her, and the bush behind her grows in such a way as to form a halo round her head. And plants do naturally grow in a pattern, and a structure – it may be because of this that the mille-fleur exists, and this may also be the reason why plants seem to curl so naturally round the letters of the manuscripts. Nature seems made to be converted into art.

But to revert to the theme which originally led us on to Botticelli, I will mention the parts of this painting which show the contrast between patterns of flowers and real life flowers – Flora’s dress for instance.


Primavera, by Botticelli. (Notice how the leaves halo the head of Venus, the lady in the middle with a red and white robe)

Zephyrus, the god of the wind (who comes bursting through the trees on the right-hand side of the painting) captures a beautiful nymph called Chloris, and changes her into Flora, the goddess of flowers. You may have wondered who are the two figures, very similar in aspect, (except that one has a plain muslin dress and the other a gown patterned with flowers) standing close together at one side of the picture, Zephyrus holding onto one of them, and the one that he holds on to spilling flowers onto the dress of the other from her mouth. The answer is that these two figures are the same person, but one is Flora, and the other Chloris – one figure is she before she was turned into a goddess, and the other after she is one. But to the point – the real-life flowers spilling out of the mouth of Chloris, change into a pattern on the dress of Flora. Now here is a perfect illustration of what I was saying – the changing of nature to art depicted in art.

Another thing that Botticelli may have been meaning to say, was that before she was transformed, when she was only Chloris, the goddess was mortal – she was solid, touchable – but when she was changed to Flora, the flowers were no longer solid but a pattern on a dress. Flowers in the real world can wilt and die, but once changed into art – art that lives forever – they are immortal. So was Chloris changed from a mortal maiden who could die, to a goddess. This same point is illustrated in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, for in that he talks about ‘nature’s changing course’ – ‘Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May’, and in contrast immortalises the beauty of the lady the poem is about by writing about her: ‘thy eternal summer shall not fade…When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.’

Plants also feature as part of the landscapes behind the figures in renaissance paintings. Gradually, the landscape behind the figures became more and more important, until serious landscape painting became common. One of the first do proper landscape paintings was Giorgione. He was born 14, 172, and died August 2, 1788. He – and other landscape painters who came after him (such as Claude Lorrain and Gainsborough) – often included the ruins of classical buildings in their landscapes, and the trees they paint (especially those of Gainsborough) look like clouds. They are very fluffy, with the leaves all blurred together, and in some patches faded and airy, and in others darker. Lakes, fences, and old, crooked, and often lightening-struck-trees are also common themes. Here the artists seem to be linking art (architecture) and nature, but both seem to be the victims of time, unlike Botticelli, in whose paintings art is immortal. But we cannot linger talking about landscape – for there is too much to be said on that subject ever to be covered in one essay – and besides, a lot of it is about sky, hills and lakes, as well as plants. Landscape painting concentrates more on atmosphere than accurateness – for detailed and trustworthy portraits of individual flowers we must look at Durer.


Painting by Giorgione


Paintings by Claude Lorrain


Painting by Gainsborough


Albrecht Dürer was a painter, writer and printmaker in the German Renaissance. He was born in Nuremberg, a place in Germany, on 21 May 147. Dürer visited Italy many times during his life, and was greatly influenced by Italian art. The influence can be seen in his Feast of Rose Garlands.

He did many woodcuts, including Knight, Death, and the Devil, and Saint Jerome in his Study. He also did (and it is mostly these which I am writing about) some lovely oil paintings of flowers and a famous one of grass. Unfortunately, only ten of them survive.


Grass, by Durer

durer colembine

Columbine, by Durer


Cowslips, by Durer


His drawings and paintings of flowers have a special atmosphere to them; they are very detailed – almost photographic – and they capture delicacy and spindliness in flowers very well. They are perfect examples of flowers in art depicted as individuals, not as patterns.  One thing that is interesting in his drawings was that they almost all show the roots of the plants. This was the case with many early illustrations of flowers. This might have been because in those days roots were the bit of plant most used for medical purposes, and so they became to be considered the most important part. His paintings usually depict wild flowers, and are without the slightest trace of luxuriance about them – after all, his most famous painting is of grass. This may be because he was influenced by the reformation, and was interested in the teachings of Martin Luther. Protestants, of course, believed in truth and simplicity, and despised luxuriance, and the faithful representation of the ‘book’ of nature is perhaps similar to a faithful study of the bible. Durer’s religion may have shown in his paintings.

 Now, let us talk about another style of painting, which, though like Durer it is portraits of flowers rather than flower patterns, is very different from him. It is Dutch Still Life.

The Dutch were the master of still life, and there are lots of Dutch paintings of vases of flowers and bowls of fruit.

Rachel Ruysch was a Dutch painter who did still life fruit and flowers. She was born into a wealthy family, (many of members of which were painters), on 3 June 1664. The flowers in her paintings are generally piled into vases, but the flowers hang down so low that nothing but the very bottom of the vase can be seen. All the stems of the flowers bend in different directions, creating a lively affect, and the colors are crisp and bright. The backgrounds are usually dimly lit – often dark to see what is behind. This was common in still life of the time. The quantity of flowers all put into one vase, and the carelessness of their arrangement gives a very luxurious feeling to the paintings. Here is an interesting example of what I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, about how different from the paintings of Durer are these pictures.

The flower Rachel paints most are red tulips dashed with white – at least one of these can be found in almost every one of her paintings. These tulips are interesting, because they are not wild flowers, but were bred to look red and white together. Humans made them, not nature – it is like they are art even before they are painted – and not only art, for in a way even wild flowers are art, but art made for man, not for bees. Again, we here see the contrast to Durer, whose flowers were usually wild, and never bred.

Paintings by Rachel Ruysuch (note the red and white tulips mentioned)

Another Dutch painter of flowers was Jan van Huysum. He, too, gave a very luxurious feeling to his paintings, even more, perhaps, than Ruysch. In many of his paintings the flowers are not in vases, but piled up in stacks or arranged upon tables. He is a particularly good painter of fruit – you can almost feel the velvet of the peach skin as you look, and it is incredible how he captures the transparent sheen of the red-currants, and how, on black grapes, the shiny dark spots peep out from under the silvery, matt looking film (it is as if they are made of different sorts of silk – the shiny parts are damask, and the other parts fuji silk, suedey instead of slippery). He often – nearly always, in fact – includes something classical next to the fruit and flowers – a vase or table with cherubs and goddess carved into it, or, as in one of the paintings shown below, he places his flowers into some sort of classical arch or cranny – once more we see the linking between flowers and art.

Van Huysum paintings


It is interesting that often the fruits in Dutch still life are rotting, or at least over ripe, and often being eaten by insects, and some of the flowers are wilted or over-blown, with ants crawling over them, as in the pictures below. Here again we see the theme of transitory life of flowers that I talked about when looking at Flora’s dress in Primavera. This concept is ‘Ars longa, vita brevis’, which means ‘art is long, life is short’.



Plants again came into use as symbols in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood was started in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and its aim was to revert the style of painting before Raphael – ‘pre-Raphael’. They though he and those who came after him, were interested too much in the outer beauty of their works, and not enough in the inner story it told. They wished to bring back symbolism into art, and so, of course, they had a use for plants. All through the history of art flowers have been used for symbols – they told stories in the medieval manuscripts, they told stories in Primavera. 

The first painting I will talk about in which plants play a main part is Autumn Leaves, by Sir John Everett Millais.


Autumn Leaves

The painting owes almost all of its charm to nature – without those silhouetted trees, through which the warm light of sunset shines, and that glowing pile of leaves, and the apple which the littlest girl holds, the feeling of autumn that hangs about it would not be nearly so strong.

Some think that the dying light in the horizon and the dead leaves, which the girls are gathering up, symbolizes the death of the girls youth – the end of childhood’s summer. If you look closely, the wreaths of smoke seem vaguely to form the ghostly and some-what frightening figure of a bearded man with squinting eyes, which seems to suggest the theme of death and time. This is very dismal way of thinking of the painting – it is disappointing to find that instead of being a happy picture, portraying youth and the warm glow of autumn, it symbolizes death. However, Millias’s own words suggest that he may have painted it with happier themes in mind –

“Is there any sensation more delicious than that awakened by the odour of burning leaves? To me nothing brings back sweeter memories of the days that are gone; it is the incense offered by departing summer to the sky, and it brings one a happy conviction that Time puts a peaceful seal on all that has gone.”

 These words do suggest the theme of days gone by, but he does not seem to be thinking about that in at all a sorrowful way – he is only pensive – ‘………and it brings one a happy conviction that Time puts a peaceful seal on all that has gone.” So, personally I will continue to think of Autumn Leaves as a happy picture.

Another painting that we will talk about is the famous Ophelia, also by Millias. In atmosphere, it is about as different from Autumn Leaves as two paintings can be from another; the feeling of one dusky, warm and hazy, the other, bright, crisp and fresh. But like Autumn Leaves, it relays on plants to make it beautiful.




The picture is bright and glowing with green things – the willow tree that leans over the water; the rose bush dotted with blooms – the reeds and water-weeds floating in the water, the forget-me-nots that edge the bank – the very substance of the painting is nature. But the whole idea of the Pre-Raphaelites is to bring back the idea of telling a story in the painting, and in Ophelia, the flowers play this part, as well as just making it beautiful. The pansies hang around her neck signify ‘love in vain’ and ‘thought’; the willow tree signifies love, the nettle pain, and the daisy innocence. Another interesting thing is that it is difficult to tell whether the less brightly coloured, brownish flowers and leaves are a pattern on her dress, or simply more picked plants sodden into her skirt, and not painted as brightly. Once more we see the contrast between real life flowers and those made into a pattern, and between life and death.

Another pre-Raphaelite painting that uses flowers for the symbolism is Convent Thoughts, by Charles Allston Collins. The setting is a garden with a pond, and beds on either side of a grass path. The flowers in the bed have symbolic meaning – the lilies, for instance, symbolise the Virgin Mary, (as has been mentioned in the Medieval Manuscripts part, this is because the white petals symbolise her purity, and the stamens her holy radiance). A young nun in a pale green habit has stopped in front of the pond, and, holding an upon bible in one hand, she gazes upon a passion flower that is in the other. Free-Shipping-20-BLUE-CROWN-font-b-PASSION-b-font-font-b-FLOWER-b-font-VINEThe passionflower is interesting, for it is a very good example of how much as if they are waiting to be made into a pattern flowers can sometimes look. Perfect in its symmetry, with its pretty coloured needles, its ring of little black dots, and green stamens branching out from the middle, it seems almost impossible to believe that it is a fruit of nature, and not a work of art. Also, it is associated with Christ, which may be why the nun is gazing on it, and is one of the most complex floral symbols. The filaments represent the crown of thorns, the five sepals and five petals refer to the ten faithful apostles, the three stigma stand for the nails of Christ on the cross, while the five anthers represent his five wounds. The tendrils of the flower look like the whips of the flagellation. Like the pre-Raphaelites, this flower invites us to take symbolism about as far as it could go without becoming too complex ever to be understood.


Convent Thoughts


Eventually, the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood split between those who wished to carry on painting realistically – in the naturalistic tradition of the renaissance –  and those who wanted to return to medievalism and turn flowers into patterns.

One of the main people who decided to make patterns was William Morris. He designed tapestries that  went back to the mille fleur tradition, but is now best known for his designs for wallpaper and fabric.

He eventually influenced Art Nouveau, a swirling style of decoration and architecture based on plants. There are a lot of lovely Art Nouveau style glazed tiles, and also stain glass, fabric, wallpaper and architecture.

Art Nouveau Tiles


I will be publishing the second part of this essay (which will be about the impressionists and other moderner artists) soon.