Plant Symbolism in Art

Flowers and other plants have made their way into art throughout the ages, and often are used to symbolise a special meaning or emotion.

Flowers and plants have inspired artists throughout the ages not only for their beauty, but also for the special meanings that they have come to be associated with. A lot of the ancient plant symbolism has been lost through the years, however many are still used today to create a certain feeling or emotion in art admirers. The following are a few plants and flowers whose symbolism has stood the test of time.

Bamboo

Bamboo has always stood for a symbol of longevity, strength and grace due to its evergreen shoots, it’s strength and flexibility. In Chinese philosophy, the straight stem of bamboo symbolises the path to enlightenment, with the segments of the stem being the many steps along the way.

Clover Leaf

People have long associated the three-leaf clover with the Christian Holy Trinity of God, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The four-leaf clover, however, has a long-standing meaning of good luck.

Lily

The delicate lily blossom is symbolic of purity, chastity and innocence. The Virgin Mary was given a white lily when she was announced as the Mother of the Son of God, and since then the simple beauty of the lily has been also symbolised peace and unity.

Lotus

The lotus plant has been a common symbol used in Asian art. The petals of the lotus symbolise birth and rebirth through the opening and closing of the petals with the sun, and is also a symbol of fertility, creation and purity. The long stem of the plant symbolises our connection to our origins, while the flower at the top represents the enlightenment to which we aspire.

Poppy

Apart from it’s well known properties of inducing sleep; the poppy has often represented sleep or indifference thanks to its narcotic qualities. It has also been used in depictions of the Passion of Christ as a reference to the sleep of death. In more modern times, the poppy has come to represent the commemoration and remembrance of soldiers lost to war.

Rose

Rose symbolism is more common in western Classical and Christian art than in eastern art, with it’s earliest known symbolic use being in the Roman catacombs, where it was used to denote paradise. It later became closely associated with the Virgin Mary, the woman who was without sin. In modern times, roses of different colours have held different meaning: red symbolising love and passion, white symbolising virginity and purity, and yellow to symbolise achievement.

Sage

The Christian symbolism of sage is of longevity, as the leaves of sage are well known to wilt slowly over a long period of time.

Sunflower

As a flower that so completely follows the sun, it has become known to symbolise infatuation or foolish passion. In modern times, it may also represent friendship and the coming of spring.

Thistle

As a thorny plant with a beautiful flower, the thistle has come to symbolise both evil and protection. In Christian art, it represents the suffering of Christ as a symbol for sorrow and sin, and in paintings, it can often be seen growing at the foot of the cross.

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