Thursday, 19 February 2009

Blog 3

This particular CS lesson was about how we should go about researching and using the library to our full potential and also about referencing the things that we find. So, this is what I found in our library expedition...

Flipping open a Robert Mapplethorpe book and landing on one of his photographs of tulips, I immediately thought of the Netherlands, stereotypical I know, but it led me to find a book on Dutch flower painting in 1600-1720 and inside were some very interesting facts. I didn't realise that there was so much theory and symbolism behind this genre of art, religion played a huge part in the development of flower painting across the Netherlands. The author Paul Taylor writes "One of the most common similitudes of the seventeenth century was the comparison of the brief life of flowers with the brief life of man." Several passages from the Bible could be cited to support this notion: the most famous being Isaiah 40:6-8: 'All flesh s grass, and all the goodness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of God shall stand forever.' This is an interesting statement as it shows how Dutch people saw life (brief and fleeting) and began to express it in their literature and paintings. The most devout of souls kept death and the shortness of life at the forefront of their minds, hence the necessity of maintaining virtue. This idea of moral goodness became evident in still life paintings, we see flowers (man's life) being surrounded by vanitas objects, skulls and corn. These juxtapositions were used to show a sense of time's fleeting nature. it was very uncommon for Dutch paintings to contain flowers and no vanitas objects.

In terms of individual flowers, this is what I found...

Symbolism of the rose was connected to the rosary and became an emblem of the Madonna in Renaissance painting. It was often used by poets for metorphorically referring to the female form and in doing so becomes something of a sin, thinking and wanting this ultimately mean you'll get stung by the thorns, or you could just remain virtuous and avoid the thorns. Lillies were emblems of the Virgin, white and pure, cleanliness of the mind. Tulips were emblematic and meaning was based around a cluster of flowers, ones that were sensitive to the sun. These flowers were to open in the morning, follow the sun through the sky and close in the evening. This produced the notion of the devout soul following God. Marigolds and Sunflowers were a part of this group and were all used as emblems of divine love and symbols of obedience to a loved one or royal. Corn was used as a symbol of man's resurrection. Carnation's were a symbol of love and betrothal.

Going back and looking at Mapplethorpe's flower photography, we see something different. It's less about the flowers symbolic meanings and more about the form and structural placment within the frame. We see complimentry colours and theatrical lighting that doesn't distract from but enhance the flowers natural beauty. Some of the photographs, like the one below can be seen as sexual or phallic and maybe this is a different form of floral symbolism but not in the way that the 17th century Dutch painters thought.

So, for this exercise I used the following two books...

Dutch Flower Painting 1600-1720. Paul Taylor. Yale University Press. London and New Haven. 1995.

Flowers, Mapplethorpe. Bulfinch Press/Little Brown and Company. Boston Toronto and London. 1990.

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