The Flowers in the "Roman Courtship" painting

I have always been intrigued by this painting.

The story of the 3 Fates, the facial expression of Morta (Greek Atropos), the smoke direction of the incense, the expressions of the young couple and Cupid, but most of all.... the flowers.

Because they did not look like roses (symbol for romantic love) to me, I sent the picture above to the British Royal Horticultural Society and informed them that these flowers were in a painting by an English painter in the Victorian era. They responded and gave me the name and background on the flowers. A fascinating story. Here it is:

The Latin name for the flowers is Astrantia, but commonly known as Gentleman's Melancholy. See photos here.

Native originally of the Swiss Alps, it naturalized throughout Europe and made it to England in the 17th century. In the Victorian era, it was a popular flower in most cottage gardens in England. There are many types and colors.

The name Gentleman's Melancholy is a reflection of "Mourning Widow," a name for Scabiosa atropurpurea (see photo here), the Pincushion flower, worn by Victorian widows. Apparently men emulated that old tradition, but with the subtler Astrantia pincusion flower.

So now the story in painting gets another dimension. Go here for my description and interpretation.

Willem van Osnabrugge
October 27, 2011