Plants in the art

June 28, 2018 Best landscape design

The term, used here in reference to plants, may seem not only arbitrary but also presumptuous, giving certainly what is meant by “art”, a concept on which illustrious philosophers have discussed without arriving at a true clarifying result. The word derives from the Latin aartis, which opposed the human work guided by intelligence to the unconscious of nature: over the centuries it changed its meaning and was divided into more or less arbitrary schemes and categories, thus losing its meaning even if art, in spite of everything, had to conform itself to nature itself and not create anything truly independent. This happened to the production activity that we call “technical” today was differentiated from it. Here we want to remember, at least briefly, the part that the Plant Kingdom has had in art, in the common sense-understood, of a work of beauty. Generally, individual, it can be, and was even more so in ancient times, popular, as a human expression often expressed anonymously, at the beginning by a single individual, but later adopted as a deep root of a people or a race. Obviously, vegetables inform themselves above all the so-called figurative arts, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture and, consequently, they also influence their derivations, which have a decorative function only, without coming from a true artistic impulse. , while achieving beauty on a practical, mystical or religious basis. However, we can not forget, even if in a secondary line, that essential arts such as poetry and music, which would seem abstracted from any intention other than spiritual, sang the work of nature and paid their tribute to the mother earth and to his marvelous plant works. The figurative arts are rooted in the obscurity of the most remote prehistory and can be said to begin with the graffiti of the cavemen, who however generally reproduce images of animals, men and sometimes objects of practical use. In-begin to find real decorative elements drawn from the plant world in the higher civilizations, that is to say already historical, even if often wrapped in legend and an inaccuracy with regard to dates and times; they offer us the first evidence of an artistic interest in plants. In addition, this interest had two different origins: one of religious order, for the populations whose Pantheon included some who presided, overworks or phenomena concerning the plant world (and one can also understand the various functions of plants in sacred ceremonies, such as especially those concerning death and burial), and one of a decorative order, when we find purely ornamental representations, often only with a function of contour to human figures. Without going into specific merits, we mention the evidence of a Cretan-Mycenaean art, such as the frescoes in the throne room in the palace of Knossos, where the walls are decorated with flowers, while other white lilies appear in the paintings of the palace of Amissos and a fragment of a fresco is generally known as “the prince of lilies”.

The ideal plant
The ideal plant designed by P. J. F. Turpin was published in the “Morphological writings” of Goethe published by W. Troll in Jena in 1926: it contains in a graphic synthesis the morphological and physiological characters described in the work by Goethe himself. Redesigned and co-ordinated by H. Berg to Gottingen in 1967.

Egyptian culture, which in more recent times it has left us so much splendor of artistic works, it is in an advantage compared to us, because, unlike what happens for the Etruscans and the Mycenaeans, it was possible to reconstruct and read their language and therefore have written testimonies ; In spite of this, its origins are surrounded by uncertainty: we are only given to know that Egypt initially consisted of two kingdoms, which, after bitter struggles, united in the person of the pharaoh, then, in 3000 BC. about, after alternating events, through a slow integration, in organized nation. This process, however, is long, because in the wonderful rock temple of Ramesses II, at Abu Simbel, from 1300 BC. about, we still find a relief, in the entrance wall, representing a god of Upper and Lower Egypt that binds lily and papyrus, symbols of the two parts of the country. In many other frescoes, both anterior and posterior to this period, we find other depictions of plants; particularly beautiful is a floor painting representing a marshy landscape in the palace of Amenothes IV (who reigned from 1372 to 1355 BC), in the capital he built and which he called Ikhnaton, today Tell-el-Amar-nah. Nor should it be forgotten that it was the Egyptians who crowned their columns, almost like tree-like stems, with capitals formed by plant elements (such as the palmiform and lotiform ones) that the Greeks later resumed by introducing the leaves of the acanthus into the architecture. Turning to oriental art, we find in all ages, up to the most recent, the first religious use (we must not forget that the same Buddha was referred to as the “jewel in the lotus”) and then also ornamental plants and flowers, culminating in relatively recent art and fantasy jewelry, such as Chinese vases and jades, Indian miniatures, Persian, Chinese and Oriental rugs in general.

Abu Simbel | 18th century Chinese vase
1) Abu Simbel, relief in the entrance wall: a god of Upper and Lower Egypt ties the lily and the papyrus symbols of the two parts of the country. 2) 18th century Chinese vase decorated with flowers.

Even the civilizations of pre-Columbian America are not absent in the idealization and representation of plant elements, as the statuette representing Xochipilli (literally “noble flower”), god of the Aztecs’ flowers, shows us; indeed, they even possessed a city called Xochimilco, that is, “field of flowers”, which stood next to a lake on whose surface they had, like elsewhere, floating gardens; the origin of these was due to earthy masses detached from the banks and kept together by the fibrous roots that penetrated completely, and were one of the major causes of wonder for Cortés and his troops at the time of the conquest of Mexico.

Persian carpet with floral motifs

However, in spite of the need of many modern artists to relive the experiences of primitives with virgin eyes, it is a fact that art history, as it has developed over the centuries and as we know it, proceeds through Greece and ancient times. Rome to be held, in the following centuries, mainly in Europe and then to radiate in the New World, also influencing the East and becoming the very concept of “art” in the broad sense, with the acquisition, among other things, of that part which concerns the Plant Kingdom.

Aztec civilization: statue representing Xochipilli, which literally means "noble flower" and was the god of flowers of that people judged cruel but lover of nature.
Aztec civilization: statue representing Xochipilli, which literally means “noble flower” and was the god of flowers of that people judged cruel but lover of nature.

A phenomenon in the limelight can be considered the Etruscan art that, although contemporary to the Hellenic and Roman ones, contrary to these, did not follow and it came less with the extinction of the people that had created it. Precisely because it is an art peculiar to a different population (and therefore had a different development until it turned to Hellenizing forms) we can not fail to mention the beautiful murals of the tombs, such as those of Cerveteri or Tarquinia, in which much often we find floral motifs or representations of trees or fruit. Despite the high splendor achieved in all the decorative arts, the Greeks did not particularly exploit the Plant Kingdom in their creative activity; or, sometimes, they stylized the motifs for forging almost like a geometrical element, as it happened for the classic Greek “palmette”. When we talk about Hellenic art, our mind runs to magnificent statues, grandiose and sunny architectures, but plants only appear sometimes as an accessory element: so, for example, acanthus leaves in Corinthian capitals or in the decoration of amphorae, vases , jewelry. Different was the artistic attitude of the Romans, as, moving away from the origins, their rough and combative life, initially simple, became richer and widened his breath with the expansion of the conquests that also brought a greater openness of mind and the adoption of exotic artistic forms, though always mediated through the character of grandeur that the hegemonic extension helped to sustain.

Fresco representante a garden in Villa di Livia, stored in the Terme Museum in Rome
Fresco representing a garden in Villa di Livia, stored in the Terme Museum in Rome

 

Of course, especially in terms of statuary and architecture, many infiltrations of Greek art, but love for nature and its products is shown in its fullness through the wall paintings, such as what it represents a garden in the Villa di Livia at Prima Porta near Rome, and also through numerous testimonies in the still intact houses of Pompeii and Ercolano; in these the mural decoration pretends an architecture in which there are views, landscapes and even flowers, fruit, vegetables, so much so that we can deduce to find ourselves in front of the first “still lifes” that appear in the art. Festoons and garlands follow each other in the frescoes and are repeated in the floor painting that will then be transformed into a mosaic; we find them as friezes in relief on urns, cippi, clogs of various objects, and for ornamentation in stucco on ceilings of palaces and sumptuous houses; oak and laurel leaves intertwine, often united with arms, in memories of victories and triumphs; leaves and flowers appear in jewels and jewels, perhaps often of Etruscan origin. The fall of the Roman Empire of the West and the consequent transfer of the capital to Byzantium, with the beginning of the Empire Ro of the East, coinciding with the slow but progressive process of assimilation of pagan religiosity in various forms by Christianity, called forms of art which, first of all hybrid, then became evident throughout the period of the Middle Ages. The images and works are affected by the ornamental motifs that preceded them, both in the East and in the West, and are often inspired by plants and flowers. In reality, throughout the Middle Ages, art is essentially sacred.

Byzantine mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna
Byzantine mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna

Byzantine art is born, combining Eastern and Hellenistic elements, culminating in the great golden rutilating mosaics in which saints and martyrs images of Christ and the Madonna are often framed or divided by trees and flowers, and still, mosaics or reliefs of only flowers or branches fill the spaces between columns, windows, balustrades. Romanesque art is born which, for about two centuries, developed separately in each country and in every region with different shapes, even in the unity of concept, and used geometric volutes of plants for the ornamentation of walls, pillars, cloisters, especially with symbolic intent, abounding in shoots of grapes, ivy and others. Finally, an architecture is born, the gothic, which, although inspired by the Romanic one, remains essentially Nordic: in the slender curve of the arched arch vaults it seems to be inspired by the grandiose intertwine branches in the high silent woods. The colored windows look like rainbow reflections between the trunks formed by the columns, the ornamental flora is free and no longer geometric, forms marble designs of branches and leaves in the balustrade of the pulpits or in the contours of the niches containing paintings and sculptures.

Andrea della Robbia: Madonna and Child, from the end of 1400 | Carlo Crivelli: "Madonna della Candeletta" today in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan
Andrea della Robbia: Madonna and Child, from the end of 1400 | Carlo Crivelli: “Madonna della Candeletta” today in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan

But it is also affirming another already existing art, both in the classical age and in the oriental cultures: the miniature, that is the art of painting in small proportions on paper, parchment, ivory, etc. The term in itself derives from minimum, the color used to square the pages and emphasize, with respect to the rest of the writing, the initial titles and letters of the manuscripts. In the Middle Ages, this art spread and improved, often decorating most of the manuscript pages with floral motifs and was maintained until the modern age. The spread of the miniature, mainly used for the transcription of religious texts, was mainly due to the fact that the Bible (until then considered the sacred book of the Israelites, per-sequenced and destroyed) was accepted by Christianity in the its quality of “sacred writing” and was therefore spread to the maximum, compatibly with the available means (the art of miniare requires time and patience, as well as happy inventiveness and skill), to the point that the Bible was the first printed work in 1455 by Johann Gutemberg, inventor of mobile type typography; this work, known as the Mazarin Bible, virtually marked the end of the miniature that survived only as pure artistic work without the original decorative purpose of writing.

Surrealism: Giuseppe Arcimboldi. The Spring is preserved at the Real Academy of Bellas Artes de S.Fernando – Madrid

However, starting from 1300, and more sensibly in the 1400s, the late Middle Ages already gave way to the first manifestations of a modernism which then led, in the modern era, to the Renaissance; in Italy, the fourteenth century Tuscan was a forerunner of this individualist movement. Andrea Pisano, who died in 1348, executed the pure lines of the bronze door south of the Baptistery of Florence, framing it with floral festoons; Ambrogio Lorenzetti, a Sienese painter, depicted, already in the first half of 1300, in a triptych, a Santa Dorotea from the womb full of flowers, with a bouquet in her hand; in the four-hundred, a century of preparation for the splendor of the sixteenth century, the floral motifs returned with greater insistence, gradually resuming the classic forms of festoons and garlands, especially in architecture. We find them in the portico of S. Maria delle Grazie in Arezzo, by Benedetto from Maiano; in the basement of almost all the tomb monuments, among which we celebrate that of Ilaria del Carretto in the Cathedral of Lucca, sculpted by Jacopo della Quercia. Still garlands of flowers frame the sweet Madonnas, candid on a light blue background, of Luca della Robbia and those of his nephew Andrea, and others, of fruits, appear around the sweet Madonna of the painter Carlo Crivelli, in front of which a vase of lilies his perfume. With the end of 1400, while in Italy “exploded” – is the right word – the Renaissance and the work of the forerunners ended, even in the rest of Europe painting in particular was free of pre-existing forms and gave rise to works in which the genius was reflecting; many of these works are permeated, literally, by the vision of nature, and plants and flowers bloom now freely.

 

No more schematic or solitary forms lilies in the Annunciations, no longer narrow and ornamental garlands, although these often survive as an accessory element or expand as an object in its own right: flowers acquire realism, they recognize and could almost be established, from the age of paintings, which of them were known. If already in the paintings by Sandro Botticelli, however naturalistic, they were difficult to identify, who could ever equivocate with the iris of the “Virgin of the Rocks” of Leonardo da Vinci, kept in the Louvre, or those of the «Virgin with the Child» by Jan Bruegel who is in the Galleria Doria in Rome? It almost seems that an invisible thread binds the brush of the u-no to that of the other: no more flat or draped backgrounds, but real landscapes, where the religious subject acquires a relief of humanity in contact with nature. The landscape as a backdrop to divine, human or mythological events, and consequently the insertion of arborescent, herbaceous or flowery plant essences into it, becomes a fact of an unprecedented extension and therefore we can not certainly give a list: just remember, as an example, the very sweet Annunciation by Lorenzo di Credi (1459-1537), the paintings by Giorgio da Castelfranco, known as Giorgione (1475-1510), the «Adoring Virgin» by Antonio Allegri, called il Correggio (1494-1534), and more famous names like Raffaello Sanzio (the Madonna del Cardellino), Tiziano Vecellio (La Venere del Pardo).

Still life 1600, by Michelangelo da Caravaggio: a fruit basket | Sandro Botticelli, detail of the Spring with flowers on the lawn
Still life 1600, by Michelangelo da Caravaggio: a fruit basket | Sandro Botticelli, detail of the Spring with flowers on the lawn

The frescoes of the great Renaissance palaces are adorned, yes, of mythological scenes, but also, and increasingly, of floral decorations, until the very ornate, though heavy, Barocco, which, using every type of decoration, is pictorial that in relief, he used, naturally, also vegetables. A place apart, however, must be reserved for the design that, with intents not completely artistic, but rather of study, depicted plants and flowers of a realism that seems incredible today and that borders the successive figured herbaria, especially in Leonardo’s drawings da Vinci, largely preserved in the Royal Library of Windsor, where lilies, oaks, violets and humble plants, such as the Tipha, are so complete and animal anatomy of this genius. Moreover, in his writings, Leonardo shows not only the way of depicting plants, but also in the sixth part of his treatise on the painting, his indication of the leaves, their arrangement, the woods of the stems and the mechanisms of absorption of the lymph and its observations concerning the importance of plant physiology discoveries. From the end of the fifteenth century onwards, to clarify a real distinction in the figurative arts of the various European countries, since they often intertwine and influence each other, both in general and in the artists’ lives, as they traveled and they penetrated different ideas and techniques from those of the country they came from. Albrecht Diirer himself, who was born and died in Nuremberg (1471-1528), a genius who was a renewer of Germany, who had some authors only second to Leonardo, traveled and studied in Italy and other countries. The statue of modernity, or the watercolor of the pond in the forest that is today in London at the British Museum, or the realistic plant backgrounds, as the engraving of the “Madonna of the monkey “, but he studied and carefully designed plants for himself. In the meantime the Flemings burst, with their exuberance of flowers and fruits, their floral compositions completely detached from any religious or mystical feeling, their still lives. Already in Frans Floris, in the painting representing the Van Berchem family, painted in 1558, despite the presence in the canvas of the thirteen people, and being the fruits on the table of the 1500s, through the Baroque, throughout the 1600s, the flowers became more and more their appearance as absolute protagonists.

Albrecht Durer, a design of marsh plants preserved at the Albertina Museum in Vienna Brooch made of diamond flowers on silver, French work 1800
Albrecht Durer, a design of marsh plants preserved at the Albertina Museum in Vienna Brooch made of diamond flowers on silver, French work 1800

 

This phenomenon can be explained in part, as well as with the idea of a life that could be defined as “sanguine”, with the introduction in Europe of new species of flowers that are admirably to accentuate the composition, more than the humble spontaneous flowers or the rigid symmetry of some, like lilies, preferred in previous ages. This is the case of the tulip, which is rightly an expert in floral arrangements, Beverley Nichols, determines”the first dancer” in a dance of flowers, but also of many other exotic flowers. Among the painters of flowers flemings must remember the luminous Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573-1645), master of Antwerp, and above all Jan Bruegel, called “of the velvets” (1568-1625), son of Pieter Bruegel the old. Unlike his father, who in his splendid paintings mainly depicted mass scenes on purely Flemish backgrounds, Jan «velvet» does not look for news or energy: his paintings are perfectly happy and even when he does not paint only flowers, all the known flowers at its time, or fruits, and sometimes animals, it infuses, in full, in the paintings, these elements as in the «Allegory of the senses» or in «The seasons»; however, for our purpose what matters most are the large vases or baskets of flowers and his friendship with Rubens, in whose paintings he often painted the floral part. There are innumerable “still lives” painted in these centuries, and it would be madness to try to make a list of them. Here we will only remember that he also painted a famous artist especially for the drama of his paintings, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1569-1609), and that, in addition to the Flemish, in the following century the Neapolitan school left lavish and sumptuous examples of this type of painting, whose prototype is found in the works of G. Battista Ruoppolo (1620-1685). Meanwhile, France, which many evocative floral backgrounds had donated in previous eras, with miniatures of the “book of hours” by the Duke of Berry and with its beautiful tapestries and tapestries, remains on the international scene only with the latter, also given the opening of the hand-bills of Gobelins and, above all, of Beauvais, which deals in particular still lifes; for the rest, France did not reappear autonomously in painting until 1700. In fact, the landscapes of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) or Claude-Gellée, called Claude Lorrain or the Lorenese, famous engraver (1600-1682), were inspired by those Italians, and above all Romans, since both spent almost all their life in Rome and died there.

Auguste Renoir, a bouquet of chrysanthemums (Rouen, Museo delle Belle Arti)
Auguste Renoir, a bouquet of chrysanthemums (Rouen, Museo delle Belle Arti)

England, with a phenomenon that has not yet been resolved, is practically absent from the history of painting until 1700: a phenomenon that is even stranger, given the splendid literary flourishing of this country; perhaps internal wars, religious reform, destruction they enter for something in this absenteeism from which only the miniature is saved, which became art in its own right, divided by writing, and in particular the art of portraiture. We find in fact in the «Victoria and Albert Museum», in London, a very charming figure of a young man leaning against a tree in a rose garden, by Nicholas Hilliard (1537-1619); but we must wait for the great landscape artists and portraitists of the second half of the 1700s to reach a true form of art, even if adapted to the era in which it took place. Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), despite being mainly a portraitist, offers us magnificent landscapes where the central theme is only a pretext, as in the “Market cart” in which the cart moves among imposing trees, in a wood that fills with all the canvas; true and noble landscape designer is John Constable (1776-1837) who, despite not giving details, summarizes with his coloristic power the trees, the water and the play of light of the English countryside. The eighteenth century and especially its rococo are prodigals of flowers: these bloom from any sacred or profane decoration, soften rooms of castles and palaces framing wide-ranging painted perspectives, even adorn the furniture, both with inlays and paintings, as in the eighteenth century Venetian, or, more linearly but always in polychrome, in Austrian, German, French furniture; flowers are also reproduced on the tapestries. In such a mass of heterogeneous ornaments, the roses of Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) stand out solitary.

Surrealism: Giuseppe Arcimboldi. The Spring is preserved at the Real Academy of Bellas Artes de S.Fernando - Madrid
Surrealism: Giuseppe Arcimboldi. The Spring is preserved at the Real Academy of Bellas Artes de S.Fernando – Madrid

It will be necessary to overtake the first part of the 1800s, with artificial flowers and plants from the so-called Victorian period. A bright flash of brilliance is a good idea, but better than those reproduced on wool, silk, velvet, until, with a sigh of relief, we find ourselves finally in front the flowers, real flowers, whatever the technique used to paint them, French impressionists: the chrysanthemums and spring flowers of Renoir, the Van Gogh sunflowers and, gradually, other names as to our mind: Edouard Manet, Henri Fantin- Latour. It was the turn of the 1800s with the 1900s that were the manifestations of a decorative art known as “floral”: the stained glass windows with the confused drawings, the drawings of the curvy squiggles and the angelic figures that often, together with the flowers, accompanied by their roots in pre-Raphaelitism and further back, in the hybrid fusion of romantic influences, by Dante Gabriele Rossetti (1828-1882), its founder. But, as if to defeat this sluggish trend, the first appears, the prototype of those who were later called “naifs” (naive): Henri Rousseau, called the Customsman (1844-1910), with his really primordial art that appears as a polemic reaction to Impressionism. His paintings, such as “The monkey in the forest” and “On the edge of the forest”, present plant forms in their essential expression, and yet fully alive, in their primitivism, which detaches him sharply from his contemporaries.

Snake enchantress by Henri Rousseau, known as the Dragonman
Snake enchantress by Henri Rousseau, known as the Dragonman

Today another modern naif, Yugoslavia Rabuzin, presents us as solar flowers as the Van Gogh sunflowers but treated with a technique that is both primitive and wise. On the other hand, the beginning of the twentieth century presents itself as a ferment of energies in search of something new: Henri Matisse (1869-1954) passes from the Impressionists to the current known as the “fauves” and given to 1911 his “Forest Moroccan », with plants reduced to the essentials that stand out against the sunset and frame it. Expressionism and therefore surrealism arise, which offers us, in the various countries, very different works, all of which transcend in some way the commonly understood reality: Giuseppe Arcimboldi gives us a “spring” all composed of flowers that could have come out of a fourteenth century brush; the Walloon Belgian René Magritte presents us with an improbable forest, from the columned trees, in a vigorous whole that echoes Gothic-Medieval origins. And it is at this point that our plants almost disappear from art: in abstractionism, there is no place for them, as there was not in cubism or futurism and only from time to time there is still some surrealist expression or naif. The case of literature is different, since the word, compared to graphic expression, is more connatural to being and at the same time is more subject to external pressures. Keeping silent on prose, which would take up too much space because in many literary texts we find magnificent descriptions of flowers, plants, landscapes, and limiting ourselves to poetry, we find in almost all countries, from the earliest antiquity, individualistic or popular poems where there are hints Plant Kingdom, both as a source of life and as a lyrical vision; but we will also find that it is easily overwhelmed by the conditions of places and times and has experienced periods of obscurantism so long as ever they knew the figurative arts. This is simple to explain, since painting and sculpture, apart from the few cases in which personal genius was able to dominate the era and adversity, were fortunate enough to be able to fall back on minor arts, but still arts, which formed a continuous thread, while the word, said or written, is itself, in its pure state, and has no possibility of compromise. In the case of obscurantism, in short, between literature and the other arts, there is the same difference between war and guerrilla, even if it is a misguided war and a very subtle guerrilla war.

Procura in bianco di René Magritte mostra una foresta stilizzata | miniatura raffigurante la riconciliazione indiana krishna e Radha
Procura in bianco di René Magritte mostra una foresta stilizzata | miniatura raffigurante la riconciliazione indiana krishna e Radha

Thus, for centuries, while in the Middle Ages the figurative art played on folds, such as the miniature, and tacitly prepared for the Renaissance, or in 1700 gave little glare in a world of grace and indifference, but always loyal to the grace of beauty, for very long periods the poetry disappeared entirely, bastardizing in sterile litanies first and empty afterwards. It can be said that, since the advent of Christian literature, poetry no longer exists, but only poets, with the exception of the less civilized countries in which poetry gushed forth from the popular soul. As in all manifestations of human culture, in the Far East, the poetic references to a plant world often have a symbolic character, without detracting from their grace. Already in 1350 a.C. Pharaoh Amenothes IV (promoter of a religious reform that was born and died with him) raised to his new god, Aton, representing the sun, a hymn that is perhaps the most ancient and beautiful that is known. The repeated praise of the rebirth of dawn and restful sleep at night, includes, in fervent thanks, men, animals, trees, and flowers. In ancient China, the poet K’uIuan, wrote, before committing suicide because he fell into disgrace, a poem entitled “Lisao”. We find these verses full of nostalgic melancholy: “I picked the irises on the banks and in the deep valleys – I intertwined a garland of autumn orchids …”. Li T’aipoh, poet who lived from 698 to 762 AD he writes: “a turtle walks on a lotus leaf – a bird rests among the flowered reeds …” and the Cantonese cantons, anonymous and written in a dialect of the south, in the province of Canton, have delicate verses such as: “Flowers, in the silent nights you have often given me your perfume – you hurt your heart, so red, so mottled! … pity that it can not shelter you, ah, evil autumn wind! ». The Japanese, according to reliable sources, received the writing of China only in 400 AD, through Korea, and, as long as they had in the meantime novels worthy of literary fame, even if too long and monotonous for Western tastes, the poetic expression was reduced to a form comprising only five lines, according to a set number of syllables (and in fact their writing is syllabic); they were called “tanka” and by way of example only one was sufficient; they often spoke of flowers, but always in the same way, at once concise and delicate. “Light falls – spring rain! – and do not disperse – the cherry blossoms – until I saw them ». Even the later novels, such as the best known, the novel of Prince Genji, of the author Murasaki Shikibu, born around 978 AD, are full of messages that the characters exchange in poetry, as “if not I had already taken to make a pillow – a tuft of grasses – which grow on the roofs – I would not have found a drop of dew – to justify this message ». The whole thing is very delicate; although the novels are decidedly erotic and corrupt in the background, the archaic language and symbolism greatly attenuate its often symbolic character. Indian literature is essentially philosophical and ethical, but in about 1600 of our era, we find a poem describing the love of the god Krisna and his treasure is spread in the garden. “Too elaborate for our taste, this is a description of the spreading of pollen; But we must also speak of the “Book of Books”, of that great literary monument which is the Bible, which, though almost totally religious, is ethical or practical (many of the laws that prescribe are dictated for say “sanitary”), contains an almost unique jewel that is the Song of Songs. Who will not be taken by the enchantment of verses like these: “I am the rose of Saron – the lily of the valleys – like a lily among thorns. “O my sister, my bride, you are a closed garden …” – a tree of pomegranates – and of the delicious fruit trees, – of cyprus and nardine plants; – of nard and of crocus, of the odorous reed and of cinnamon – and of every tree of incense – of myrrh and of aloe – and of every more exquisite aroma ».

Greek literature is made to begin with Homer, though many oral traditions, and perhaps partly also written, must have preceded en. As the epic poems are still in the Vs of the Odyssey, when the island of Calypso is described as follows: grotto, luxuriant: poplars, alders and scented cypresses: the birds with their fast wings nested there … … and the whole cave was surrounded by a vine, young and luxuriant and full of ripe bunches … … around it there were soft meadows of violets and … »but the Greek poetry is full of references to fruits and trees, often also with flowers: from Sophocles singing” like in the leaves of a tall poplar – but only in that of the summit – a gust of wind … »to the epigram that Simmia composed for Sophocles himself:« softly, on Sophocles’ serious, wrap yourself slowly, – or ivy, widening your green branches; – roses bloom everywhere, and the vine with its clusters – it spreads around its damp shoots … ». Much, of course, the Roman literature that culminated with the art of Virgil and Horace was two to the Greek. The first the work of Virgil, the Eclogues, has remarkable hints to well-known plants: «hedged junipers and chestnut trees stand up – and under every tree the fruits lie everywhere …» and descriptions of the earth, fields and crops are intensified in the Georgics, which are probably the highest moment of Virgilian poetry. Horace is less attached to the earth and its products, but also, in the Odes, can not stop itself from mentioning holm oaks, myrtle, pines: “to you consecrate the pine that dominates the villa …”, thus continuing a long series of testimonies on the most widespread plants at that time. With the Christian era, we begin an essentially religious literature, written in a Latin that becomes more and more “vulgar”, moving towards modern languages, especially towards Italian. And the plants almost disappear everywhere: not that the regular references to lilies or roses are missing, as a symbolic attribute in regards especially to Our Lady, but mystical anxiety, combined with the rough labors of war, makes us forget the serenity of nature, despite still find some lyrical examples. Aurelio Prudenzio Clement, Spanish, born about 1348, sings Church and martyrs, but, suddenly, the sweetness rises on the tombs: “you catch purple violets – you reap the blood crocuses: – the gentle winter does not lack them; – the ice melts and frees the fields – so that you can fill the flower baskets ». Venanzio Fortunato, born about 530, takes up again the reason to celebrate Easter and then spring: «tufts of violets stain the purple fields, – the green grass meadows and the grass crown sparkles – the stellar lights of the flowers – and every plant has eyes that smile “. It will, however, be necessary to arrive at 1300 and at the dawn of Humanism, at Cino da Pistoia, at Petrarca, at Dante Alighieri, to find hints that are not of religious piety and that lead us back, through the sublimation of the female figures loved by these poets, to the floral elements; and since some concepts are of all times and of all lovers, there is a singular resemblance between the verses of Petrarch who envies the grass trampled by Laura: “happy flowers and happy, and well-born herbs – that Madonna, thinking, premer sòle … frigid little trees and green leafy fronds – pale violets … »and those who wrote Pierre de Ronsard in France about two centuries later:« then, descending down, – under his feet – a thousand bloomed flowers grow; the beautiful lilies and the carnations – vermillion – blush among the roses ». From this point we can proceed by individualistic and non-historical choice: of course, many other reasons push poetry, everywhere, from the epic to the civil fury, from the melancholy and desperation of death to the joys of love or glory, but the approach to nature persists and is a purely individual matter. Petrarchism was for a long time in Italy, just as the “Pléiade”, a school derived from the graceful Ronsard, perpetuated in France, but with the modern era, the writers turned away from these schemes and, although they were or were to follow schools various, their work always remains clearly personal. Thus we find in Italy Giambattista Marino, born in 1569 in Naples, more virtuous than a poet, who nevertheless presents, from our point of view, a remarkable peculiarity: one of his long “Idillii” contains an unprecedented enumeration of rural flowers, of which we give a brief example:

“The poppy springs – raised from the grave oblivion, -colour of wonder, – its vermilion and sleepy head, – and ‘n piè risen to emulate the roses – of fine grained purple cheeks …»; Frallois de Malherbe (1555-1628) with only two lapidary verses became proverbial: who does not know, in fact, the concept “et rose, elle a vécu ce que vivent les roses, – the espace d’un matin” (and, rose , did she live how much the roses live, the space of a morning)? As for England, the figure of Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) dominates for an entire age also influencing other European literatures; more than his great works, however, we may be interested in some simple verses in an English that has now disappeared: “of the floures in the mede – love I most these floures whyte and rede – swiche as man callen days in our toun … »(Of all the flowers in the meadow – I love more than all these white and red flowers – which are called pratoline, in our country). Humility on the part of a great man who preferred allegory, or revelation of poetic sweetness? Of course, two centuries later William Shakespeare arrived (1564-1616), which also blurred the memory of those who had preceded him. In spite of his great historical work and the unparalleled dramatic work, both in the Sonnets and in all his theatrical works, he names flowers, both as attributes and for themselves, to the point that in England the list of which cites, and it is said that one could construct an entire garden with them. The epochs are pressing: the Romanticism comes and, given its nature, it would be difficult for it to renounce to involve the Plant Kingdom in its dreams, sometimes delirious. We will now quote the various literary currents without interruption, since the transition from one to the other is often gradual; in Germany, the romantic Friederich Wilderlin (1770-1843), who died in a state of madness, wrote: “with yellow pears hangs – and full of wild roses – the land on the lake …” followed by the lyric Heinrich Heine (1797-1856 ) that sang above all the North Sea, but also the fields of lilies and dark forests. In France René de Chateau-briand dedicates entire poems to the description of flowers and woods (“la forét”, describes grass, streams, honeysuckle …); the prolific Victor Hugo, who sang historical and powerful events, confesses, almost in a whisper, that will bring to his daughter’s grave “a bunch of holly and flowery heather”. The dreamer Alfred de Musset praises the nights of May in which “the fleur de l’églantier feels ses bourgeons éclore” (the flower of the rose of stain hears its gems open). In Italy, Giacomo Leopardi makes the broom famous, Giovanni Pascoli studies plants and flowers more as a naturalist than as a poet, and his flowers arise, very sweet lawn, from the volume of poems entitled “Myricae”. And also the controversial Giosuè Carducci indulges in vegetal notations: “the tree you tended to – the pargoletta hand – the sweet pomegranate – from the beautiful vermigli fior …”. Gabriele D’Annunzio, with the sumptuous phraseology that gave him the fame of “imaginific”, eternal the oleander in his “Laudi of the sky, the earth, the sea and the heroes”, but even before, although with the decadent taste of the time, he had discovered the charm of the forests in the «Heavenly Poem». The rest is produced today, like the papyrus of Salvatore Quasimodo on the river Anapo. However it seems appropriate to close this gallop in the green fields of poetry, recalling the words of one of the modern poets who most passionately and with greater purity expressed his love for the trees and fields of the earth in which he was born: Federico Garcia Lorca he wrote with all his heart: “cuando yo me muera – entre los naranjos – y the hierbabuena …” (when I will die among the oranges and the mint …). Federico Garcia Lorca was shot in the Spanish Civil War … but he was not buried in his orange trees.