When you think of roses, one usually imagines a fragrant, colorful flower with thorny stems that blooms all Spring and Summer and makes the perfect bouquet.
But the history of the Rose is quite fanciful and interesting. Wild rose fossils have been found that are over a million years old. Roses were first cultivated in China around 5000 years ago, then later in the Middle East and Europe. According to Greek mythology, the rose is the flower of love. Endowed with beauty, charm, joy and sweet scent, it was created by the Greek goddess of flowers out of a lifeless body of a nymph. Cleopatra adored roses had the floor of her rooms covered with rose petals on special occaisions.
Roses later became synonymous with the worst excesses of the Roman Empire when the peasants were reduced to growing roses instead of food crops in order to satisfy the demands of their rulers. The emperors filled their swimming baths and fountains with rose-water and sat on carpets of rose petals for their feasts and orgies. Roses were used as confetti at celebrations, for medicinal purposes, and as a source of perfume. Heliogabalus used to enjoy showering his guests with rose petals which tumbled down from the ceiling during the festivities.
It was not until the Crusaders of the 12th and 13th centuries brought back specimens of Damask roses from their travels to the Middle East that they once more became popular in Europe. During the 17th century, roses were in such high demand that royalty used roses and rose water as legal tender.
Empress Josephine of France (1763-1814) is perhaps the best known patron of roses. In her gardens at Malmaison, she grew over 250 varieties of roses. In the late 1700’s, artist Pierre Joseph Redoute, who was Josephine’s official artist, created the first botanical Rose illustration books, a three volume set:Les Roses, 3 vols. (1817–1824). Here is an example of one of the plates in the book:
It is really no surprise that the rose motif and designs have been used on many decorative objects (tiles, pottery, stained glass, jewelry, fabrics, celluloid, silver, glassware, paintings, china, accessories, hardware) over the centuries. They have symbolized love, sweetness, beauty,wealth and power over the years. A few examples of mine to enjoy:
The Rose is so beloved that it is our National Floral Emblem…something to think about the next time you enjoy a sweet smelling blossom from your garden!