Books in Bloom

/ February 24, 2015
If I were to offer you a “tussie-mussie,” I would present you with a bouquet of tulips and hyacinths. In flower speak, that would mean love and wisdom. Maybe it’s because I’m a daffodil (a loyal friend) and also because I love dandelions (fun-loving and free-spirited)!

There is a whole language of flowers that we don’t “speak” any more. We look upon flowers as beautiful, elegant, or decorous. They cheer up our homes, they decorate our weddings, they add lots of color to our gardens. But few of us nowadays reflect on flowers and their meaning.

The designers presenting at the second annual Art in Bloom festival are deliberating about this very thing when they are arranging their floral creations inspired by particular works of art at the Museum.  As viewers we, too, can participate more fully, by learning more about the language of flowers. Why not stop by the Art Reference Library and peruse through different types of flower books?

For meaning, look through Samantha Gray’s The Secret Language of Flowers. Based on the Victorians’ love of hidden messages, meanings (both positive and negative) were assigned to different flowers. The book is divided into four sections: Courtship, Love and Affection, Beauty, and Friendship. What fun it would be to put together a nuanced “tussie-mussie!”

Bernardino Lanino, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints and Donors (detail), 1552, oil on panel, 92 3/8 x 60 1/2 in., Gift of the Samuel H. Kress FoundationPeruse through the flowers section of Nature and Its Symbols to discover particular meanings of flowers in works of art, whether sacred or profane. Have you ever noticed the lilies in Bernardino Lanino’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints and Donors? Viewers from the 16th century would have known that the lilies were symbols of chastity. Find out how it was that the tulip, originally a flower of Persian origin, turned into an obsession for the citizens of the Dutch Republic in TulipoMania by Mike Dash. In fact the Dutch were quite the flower painters, as illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Elegance and Refinement: The Still-Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst and other monographs.

Looking for inspiration for your home? Peruse through the beautifully photographed books Decorating with Flowers or Living Art: Style Your Home with Flowers (also available in the Museum Store). Everything from how to make attractive centerpieces to seasonal wreaths will definitely elicit oohs and aahs from your guests.

Have your mind blown away by the contemporary floral artist Daniel Ost. Ost’s floral arrangements are incredible works of art and design that will leave you in awe. Who knew flowers could look like that?

We’ve often heard the adage about life imitating art and art imitating life. Many gardens were inspired by the impressionist movement. The exhibition catalogue The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement engages the viewer in looking at gardens inspired by art, as well as paintings inspired by beautiful gardens. Such influence can be seen in Childe Hassam’s watercolors of Celia Thaxter’s artfully planted flowers in An Island Garden.

With so much to offer the winter-weary visitor, the NCMA’s library is an ideal place to conjure a bit of spring and cultivate your curiosity about what’s in store when American Impressionist opens in March and the Art in Bloom designers arrive in April with their baskets of blossoms.

Found on Level O of East Building, the Museum Library is open to the public Tuesday–Friday, 10 am–4 pm. The Library is closed on Mondays and designated holidays. Parking at the Museum is free.

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