R-2: Historical Aspects of Floral Design



††††††††††† Flowers as objects of beauty and a means of personal expression are part of the whole history of human existence.Our ancient ancestors must have responded with wonder and delight to the sight and fragrance of the wild flowers around them. While our earliest specific record of floral use dates to the Egyptian civilization, there is now evidence of use in the Paleolithic Period. A burial site discovered in an East Africa cave suggests, first, a higher social order as these ancients buried their dead.Second, from the wide array of pollen of local plant species concentrated in the burial site, it suggests these early people gathered flowers and used them as a mourning tribute.


††††††††††† How flowers are used and arranged is the result of many cultural influences.This includes the influence of previous design styles or techniques on those later emerging.This is most certainly true for American or Western design which is a combination of European and Oriental design styles.These, in turn, have their own history that influenced their development.


††††††††††† Floral design history primarily offers a perspective on design evolution.While there are some classic design techniques and styles in use today, the purely historical designs are only for limited specific home decors and mainly for educational purposes in competitions.Other reference works plus paintings and other visual art forms can aid those wanting training for "period arrangements."At the same time, it is not uncommon for a period design style to reappear in a slightly modified form, either on its own or in a combination of styles.In this way the historical influences continue to have an impact on design evolution into the future.


††††††††††† The following discussion is divided into five areas by time and geographical influence on design history.On the following page there is a date chart which may assist interpreting the overlapping European and American periods.

Please following this link to the timeline


The Classical Period


††††††††††† The Egyptian civilization, or at least the royals, made extensive use of flowers, foliages, and fruits designed in vases and baskets. Decorated vases and wall paintings in the tombs indicate that roses, poppies, violets, narcissus, lotus, water lilies, and other plants were cultivated and arranged in special containers having stem supports built into the top.A repetition and alternation of flowers and colors was common in the designs.While there was general use of flowers everyday, most significant was ceremonial importance in floral tributes to the dead and in their religion. This includes floral symbolism as the lotus blossom, with its yellow center and outstretched petals, was the sacred flower of Ra, the Sun God.


††††††††††† In contrast to the vase arrangements in Egypt, the Greek Period involved flowers designed into garlands and wreaths that were either worn or carried. Wreaths, as symbols of allegiance and dedication, were important religious tributes and awards to athletic and military heroes, but everyone wore them for festivals.Flowers were also worn in the hair for personal adornment, and small, fragrant wreaths were often exchanged between lovers.The form and etiquette for the use of floral wreaths in Greek society were so important that designers were officially designated and rules were written.Another important design from the Greek Period is the cornucopia (horn of plenty), a horn shaped basket filled with flowers, fruits, and vegetables and carried upright in parades as a symbol of abundance.This design is still in use today with the same symbolism, although it is now arranged on its side.


††††††††††† The Roman civilization drew mainly from the Greek floral uses, continuing and improving on techniques of making wreaths and garlands. Extensive trade increased access to different flowers, and Egyptian influence brought some vase arranging to Roman floral use.While the Greeks grew some plants indoors for winter flowers, the Romans took advantage of the better, warmer environment of the bathhouses.However, little was added to the floral arts as this was generally a time of luxury and opulence leading to gross excess in the use of floral materials.


††††††††††† After the fall of the Roman Empire, the floral arts were primarily in a state of preservation.To the east Byzantine art did add a new stylized tree (espalus) with foliage shaped as a symmetrical, conical tree with fruit or flower clusters attached to these "branches."Tapestries offer the primary record of the floral designs during this period, but in the west very little is known from the Middle Ages when floral design retreated to the European monasteries.Wreaths, garlands, and vase arrangements did have church uses, but the primary advances during this time were from the monastery gardens in increases in the types and culture of flowers for design.



The European Periods


††††††††††† The Renaissance brought a rebirth to floral design and the arts in general.The style began in Italy, based on the classic Greek and Roman styles, and spread throughout Europe.Most of the designs were large, tall, symmetrical, and pyramidal in form.While the arrangements emphasized a mass of flowers, the flowers were placed for an open, airy, and uncrowded image.Heavier containers were typical, with their height about equal to the plant materials.Bright, contrasting colors were the fashion and three color (triadic) schemes most popular.The Renaissance style continues today as the basis for many large stage and church arrangements.The classic holiday wreath of fruit, cones, and flowers was also stimulated by the Renaissance style through the famous painter della Robbia.


††††††††††† The Italian artist Michelangelo influenced the transition from the classical Renaissance style into the more lavish Baroque period. As flower arranging was not yet established as an independent art form, it was the painters who set the styles in floral design.Designs of this time were also tall and massive with many flowers, but they tended more to the oval shape. Color was used without restraint, and accessories of figurines, fans, and butterflies were often incorporated to create the full composition. Later in the period there was a further transition toward asymmetrical curved designs in the C (crescent) or S (Hogarth) shape.This helped refine the massive style to a more graceful, dynamic, and elegant appearance.


††††††††††† As the Baroque style spread through Europe, its greatest influence was in Belgium (Flanders) and Holland.The Flemish style was developed by the old masters as they created floral designs for their paintings. (Homes initially displayed paintings of flower arrangements rather than the fresh flowers.Paintings were as the artists conceived the designs rather than from a model, an "artist's license" noted in the frequent occurrence of flowers used together that do not bloom at the same time and of floral stems with improbable curves.)While the Flemish designs were more massed, they were also more compact and exhibited a better sense of proportion. Flemish designs also incorporated a greater use of accessories, including such things as stuffed birds and nests with eggs.


††††††††††† In France it was political influence of the royal court that guided their variations of the Baroque style.Specifically, under Louis XIV the Baroque design character of size and color was modified for greater feminine appeal, but the arrangements tended toward informal, symmetrical bouquets with the largest flowers to the perimeter, no color groupings or center of interest, and little thought being given to the designs.Antoinette Poisson, mistress of Louis XV, dictated the next variation in the French Rococo (rock and shell) Period, a name relating the graceful arcs of the designs.Asymmetric curves, in the crescent primarily, in a more formal style with more delicate colors and accessories and a more open and airy design continued and improved the trend in feminine design.In the short reign of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette moved further in the feminine design quality with more delicate, cool colors and less lavish containers than used before.


††††††††††† With the French Revolution and discovery of the Roman ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum, there was a revival in the classical design styles -the Classical Revival Period, or Neoclassic Period.Nowhere else was its influence as great as in France under Napoleon Bonaparte.Under his direction, femininity was dropped from French designs and replaced with masculine qualities in dynamic, militaristic themes.Designs of the Empire Period were massive in size and weight and displayed obvious symbolism, such as Napoleonís trademarks of the letter N, the bee, the Empire star, and lions or beehives in the containers.


††††††††††† Overlapping the end of the Baroque Period were the reigns of the English kings George I and George II.This Georgian Period in English design moved from the painters' influence (who were cramming seasonal flowers and branches into urns) toward the classical work of such artisans as ceramics maker Wedgwood and cabinetmakers Chippendale and Heppelwhite. Trade with China also introduced new materials to modify the formal Baroque style on the continent.Triangular designs were developed, some based on only a single color or just a single flower type - a major break from the lavish style on the continent.Another design innovation during this time was the tuzzy-muzzy, or nosegay, originally as an accessory for fashionable women and later placed in bowls on the table in the first use of table centerpieces as we consider them today.


††††††††††† The Neoclassic style was important in England but not to the extent as in France.When Queen Victoria came to the English throne, the middle class rose in wealth and power.Floral design and the other arts were no longer limited to the nobility.The status symbol of the arts, and the arts themselves, declined in the Victorian Period.Flowers were more fashionable than at any time in history, leading to their excessive use in the designs.Large quantities of flowers would be literally jammed into an ornate container leaving no space around the individual flowers.



The American Periods


††††††††††† European colonists brought the floral styles of their homeland as they settled in America, but attention to food, shelter, and safety left little time for the frivolities of the arts.For the Pilgrims of New England, seeking relief from religious persecution and a break from England, the designs had to rely on simple materials _ wood and earthenware kitchen containers with simple bouquets of collected flowers and grasses or flowers incidental to their garden herbs and medicinals. In contrast, the center of Dutch settlement in New Amsterdam had less outside danger, a higher living standard early, and trade ties back to Europe.This allowed more time for gardening and the floral arts in the Dutch manner.


††††††††††† The English colonists in Virginia also did not break from their homeland, and successful trade brought a life of sophistication and culture to them.Wealth, leisure, and extensive gardens allowed development of the Colonial Williamsburg style of design.This is primarily a combination of the Rococo and Georgian design styles, usually as a massed bouquet type but with ample space between flowers for a casual, open appearance.Fan shaped, globular, or round arrangements were most common in designs specifically sized for large hallways and dining room locations and for small bedside tables.Dried flowers and grasses were also used extensively for designs throughout the year.The general character of Colonial Williamsburg designs is of more enduring quality, and it continues to be copied today for decorating homes in the southern colonial tradition.


††††††††††† Following the American Revolution, English influences were generally rejected and attention shifted to the French styles of design. Neoclassic and Empire influences were most prominent in delicate designs that stressed beauty of the individual flower.Subsequently, with better relations with England, floral designs in America gradually shifted toward the ornate and stuffy Victorian styles.


††††††††††† The Victorian Period is generally noted for its lack of artistic taste, and the floral arrangements reflect this in a combining of materials with little thought to how those materials should relate in a design composition.A serious effort was made to return art to the basic techniques in floral design.Skilled designers began teaching the art of floral design and the recognition of required skills for successful application of art and design in flower arranging helped establish the florist profession early in the 20th century.


††††††††††† Most American designs in the early 1900's tended to be either copies of earlier European styles or, more often, efforts to blend several styles. One component in the blends was a Japanese influence.Containers and other aspects of Oriental designs were utilized to a small extent in some earlier periods, but the whole style and philosophy was very different from the European design character.While American designs at this time continued to be mostly European in nature, more interest in Japanese design led to increasing integration of East and West, somewhat during the 1930's and very rapidly after World War II.



Oriental Floral Design


††††††††††† In ancient Egypt the lotus was the sacred flower of Ra, the Sun God, as its shape and color represented the sun.All plant forms also were considered to have life; therefore, they were sacred.Symbolism and sacred value led to the concept of gathering storm damaged flowers and leaves (as a preservation of life) for scattering by the priests at their religious altars.


††††††††††† The religious philosophy and practice of using floral materials spread from the Middle East to the Far East, particularly moving with the spread of the Buddhist religion.It was a temple art, practiced by the priests only.A change did occur with the Buddhist priests in China who felt it was improper to place flowers so carelessly before Buddha.They began creating symbolic arrangements in massive bronze ceremonial vessels.


††††††††††† Late in the 6th century traders had brought information to Japan about Chinese culture, which was at its peak in political and artistic development.The ruling prince of Japan sent envoys to China to bring back knowledge of their culture and the Buddhist religion.With introduction of the religion came the concepts of floral arranging as practiced by the Chinese priests.


††††††††††† The succeeding ruling prince of Japan was Ono-no-Imoko, who at the end of his political career became a Buddhist priest and adopted a secluded lifestyle.He took the name of Ike-no-bo, which means

"hermit-by-the-lake."As much of his life was devoted to arranging flowers for Buddhist ceremonies, including many refinements in the art and rituals, his instruction was sought by other priests.Thus, he established the first school of floral art in Japan, which carries his name - Ikenobo.


††††††††††† The Ikenobo school of Japanese floral design still continues today. Over the centuries students of this school have adopted slightly differing philosophies and established other schools.These schools also continue today, reflecting the differences in design style and freedom of expression in the grand masters' philosophies, but they all reveal basic principles having roots in the teachings of the Ikenobo School.The popularized name Ikebana -"giving life to flowers" -is generally interpreted today as the art of Japanese floral arrangement.


††††††††††† As Oriental floral arrangement reached its fullest development in Japan, the major attributes were religious symbolism, preservation of life, and appreciation of beauty.Symbolism is virtually inseparable from the floral arrangements, with traditional values stressed and rather rigid rules regarding the combinations of plants and flowers and the way they express religious and philosophical ideas.For example, leaves in various stages of development expressed the past in the fullest leaf form, the present when half unfurled, and the future when just beginning to expand.The pine with its evergreen foliage symbolized long life.The wisteria with its delicate tendrils signified both femininity and the change of spring into summer.The bamboo's strong, rapidly growing stalks symbolized strength.The chrysanthemum represented the Emperor and the sun.Trees, open flowers, and bright colors expressed the male, whereas the female was related in flowers, buds, and subdued colors.


††††††††††† The use in designs of only damaged materials destined to die, as a preservation of their lives, is no longer absolute, but this philosophy is maintained in the Oriental design characteristic of simplicity.The oriental countries, long used to scarcity in every form, did not use large masses of flowers as was the case in European arrangements. Instead, they used a few flowers and branches combined in pleasing line designs.These designs also were asymmetrical in contrast to the full, symmetrical mass designs of Europe.Line designs also allow each branch, leaf, and flower to be fully viewed for appreciation of its individual beauty.


††††††††††† Lines in Japanese floral designs also are symbolic with specific relationships to each other, although the degree of symbolism and rigidity will vary with the different schools.The most basic form is a 3-line design, in which the three lines represent heaven, man, and earth.Heaven (Shin) is the tallest line, standing above the rest.At the base is earth (Tai or Hikae) as the foundation line.In between is the man (Soe) line, reflecting the human existence between the "sphere of heaven and the soil of the earth."Positioning of these lines creates a triangular outline, which is retained even as the basic design may be enlarged to 5, 7, or 9 lines. Typically, only odd numbers of flowers were used because odd numbers were considered lucky, more natural, and in better conformity with the heaven, man, and earth theme.


††††††††††† The original temple forms of Japanese floral arrangements were large and intended to depict a landscape image (Rikkwa or Rikka style), ranging from six to 15 feet in height.The three main structural elements were present as Shin, the distant view (background trees), Soe, the middle view (low shrubbery in front of the trees), and Tai, the close view (flowers in the foreground).By size of the design and cost of the heavy bronze and brass containers needed, this style of design moved from the temples only to the palaces and homes of the nobility. In the Ikenobo style the three lines were given emphasis in the heaven, man, and earth symbolism, but the designs remained formal. Centuries passed before Japanese floral art became part of the home in a new school of design using low containers made of accessible bamboo.


††††††††††† In the 15th century the ruling Shogun was a great promoter of the tea ceremony and flower arrangements.Homes included a special alcove or niche, the tokonoma, as a religious shrine where a scroll painting and flower arrangement were placed.In the tea ceremony, an elaborate and very stylized ritual for welcoming guests into the home, the guest was seated closest to the tokonoma for a good view of the flower arrangement made in his honor.These designs of the Shokwa (or Seika) school carried the heaven, man, and earth theme in the distinctive asymmetric triangular arrangements continuing today.Rather rigid rules are applied in the line lengths and directions, from which one might expect a tiresome similarity among the arrangements.This is not the case, however, as the design height and proportions within the triangle and the choices of plant materials are varied.


††††††††††† Another informal style emerged near the same time with a more naturalistic image and intended use outside of religious occasions.While the religious symbolism remains in the designs, the Nageire or "thrown

in" style exhibits a casualness in its simple arrangements that are seemingly artless but possess great subtlety needing a high degree of skill to achieve.This is a design for upright vases, or sometimes hanging containers, that uses more curving lines appropriate to simple homes and everyday life compared to the formal, rigid triangles of the classic styles.Upright, slanting, and other variations have evolved in this design style that is intended for viewing at a position above eye level (as opposed to Seika designs to be viewed at eye level).


††††††††††† The Moribana style was developed in 1890 from the Ikenobo School and is the traditional 20th century Japanese arrangement.These are graceful, informal, naturalistic arrangements in low containers without the religious symbolism (so are intended for viewing below eye level, as on a low table).They do retain the triadic form, but it is an adaptation from the Rikkwa style.Thus, the designs normally depict either miniature landscape scenes or groupings of flowers alone.


††††††††††† As designs in America changed significantly after World War II with Japanese design influence (next section), so also did the West influence Japanese design.Jiyu-Bana is the freestyle form of design, comparable to American interpretive designs, in which the form and texture of the plant materials are emphasized over interpretation of natural scenes.Other schools of Japanese design also build upon their rich heritage and new interpretations in floral art.



Contemporary American Design


††††††††††† In America after World War I there began an era of prosperity and good times.Flower gardening became popular, and greenhouse flower production was rapidly expanding, leading to a general spread of flower arranging across the country.Professional floristry was developing in this New Art Period of American design and so was a vocational activity in the art of floral arranging.Much of the credit for teaching floral design to the public goes to the National Council of State Garden Clubs which had established training programs for their teachers and judges involved with the expanding opportunities in flower and design competition. Fundamental principles of design were given emphasis in evaluating and improving designs of the European heritage.Garden club programs also should be credited for their study, incorporation, and teaching of the concepts of Japanese design in modifying American design.


††††††††††† Beginning in the 1930's and progressing rapidly with closer study after World War II, the pleasing qualities of the Japanese line design were added to the mass designs of America and Europe.This evolved to a hybrid, line-mass style that adds an emphasis to directing eye movement into and through the arrangement.This is recognized as a unique American (or Western) design style that may be "borrowed" and seen in designs worldwide.


††††††††††† In contemporary American arrangements the designer now has a choice of three traditions: the European world of mass design, the Oriental world of line design, and the American world of line-mass, a combination of the two.Mass arrangements have the entire area filled with flowers and plant

materials, not in the profuse overflowing character of European designs, yet with a feeling of abundance.There should be a definite color harmony, a segregation of color with gradual transition from one to the other, good symmetrical or asymmetrical balance, a strong focal point of massed plant material, less dense material to give graceful height and breadth, and emphasis on repetition, contrast, and texture. Line arrangements draw from the Japanese style but are not locked to the rigid rules, allowing greater exploration of the natural beauty of the plant material.They are designs created entirely of lines and silhouettes of the individual leaves and/or flowers.The arrangement necessarily contains less plant material, and the voids between and around the materials are a very significant part of the design.The arrangement may be symmetrically balanced, often incorporating a central figurine or other accessory, or asymmetrically balanced, which usually offers more freedom of expression.Design rhythm may be varied infinitely through variations in the line choice.The most important requirement is that the arrangement has a clean-cut design.Line-mass arrangements are based on a clean-cut, sculptural design with equal emphasis on the skeletal pattern of lines that determine the arrangement shape, the voids between the lines and other plant forms, and the massed materials that give weight, focus, and depth.(In some cases the arrangements are termed††††††† line-mass when the line component has emphasis greater than or equal to the mass component, and mass-line when the mass component is greater.)The line portion may be built in with branches, stems, or series of blooms or leaves, usually in steeple fashion, which create a visual path for the eye.The lines and the voids they create develop the skeletal pattern.The mass portion is usually placed low and to the center and along the main axis or axes. The mass image of the design is greater to the center and thins out toward the periphery of the arrangement.The plant materials should be repeated in form and color throughout the arrangement.


††††††††††† As in all art forms, floral art is in constant change.Traditional mass and line-mass designs continue to be very important today in commercial and home arrangements.Pure line designs are less common but have a definite place in modern decorating and expression.Many professional florists and garden club artisans are expanding the horizons of floral art in interpretive and freestyle designs.For some designers and florist market areas there is stronger desire for more expressive arrangements, often with higher cost exotic and unusual plant materials, to create a floral statement in High Style and other design variations. These arrangements, particularly as their commercial value is based more on artistic skill rather than quantity of floral materials, do not appeal to all tastes, just as the traditional designs will vary in their appeal. This is no different than exists with every form of art.Fortunately, there is freedom to choose across all areas of floral design, to explore and experiment with each, and to develop a personal skill and design satisfaction.