14 February 2012

The carnation as a symbol of love

These three images are selected from a larger group of fourteen assembled at the always-interesting blog A Polar Bear's Tale; the paintings clearly illustrate the symbolic use of the carnation in classical portraiture.

To the modern eye, the effect seems a bit incongruous, but to informed viewers of the time, the intent was clear.
In the language of flowers, a red carnation symbolizes pure and ardent love and a pink carnation symbolizes marriage. Paintings from the Renaissance show that it was customary to give a carnation to a loved one at weddings as a symbol of the vow of fidelity.
In other settings it carries a religious connotation:
The carnation then became known as the "flower of God." It was introduced into Europe during the Middle Ages and symbolized the eye of God from which nothing could escape. According to one Christian story, when Jesus was carrying the cross, Mary saw him and began to cry. Carnations grew where her tears fell.
The art works, top to bottom:
Dirck Jacobsz: 'Portrait of Pompejus Occo', 1531,
Hans Holbein the Younger: 'Simon George', ca. 1533, and
Andrea Solari: 'Man with a Pink Carnation', 1495.


  1. The third picture - the bloke in red - d'yer reckon that style of collar was actually meant to make it look as if you had your head on backwards, or is that just a bonus?

  2. What coat of arms is that in the top picture?

    And it strikes me as funny is that the guy in the middle could take off his hat and walk through my university town and no one would notice him. He could blend in on a night out. And I love his embroidered leather outer-coat.

    1. It is the coat of arms of the Occo-family.

      Source: http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/aria/aria_assets/SK-A-3924?lang=en&context_space=aria_encyclopedia&context_id=00064034

    2. From Anon's link -

      This self-assured gentleman with a fur collar is Pompeius Occo, who was an extremely wealthy Amsterdam merchant. He is pictured here at the age of 48. In the tree hangs a shield bearing the Occo family coat of arms: a golden eagle with red beak and claws. Occo, who was originally from Germany, settled in Amsterdam in around 1510. There he looked after the interests of the German banking and trading company Fugger. His international contacts and wealth provided Occo with much influence. He lent money to the regent of the Netherlands Margaret of Parma and the city of Amsterdam. Occo was also an educated man and owned an extensive library containing many valuable manuscripts. Dirck Jacobsz painted him in 1531.


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