May 2016 – The Carnation & Pink in Art & Culture – Twigs Way

Every now and then we like to bring changes to our programme of mostly horticultural matters. Of course the clue was in the title of our latest talk “The Carnation and Pink in art and culture” yes, we really were talking about art and culture!

The carnation is a fascinating flower and Twigs Way (that really is her name) described its fascination for artists, writers and people like you and me since time immemorial – Shakespeare called it the ‘fairest flower of the season. Some believe that the carnation’s name derives from the Latin word ‘Carnis’ for flesh because of its original colour. Others think that it is from the Latin ‘corona’ because it was used in wreaths and garlands at Roman festivals. But all agree that the carnation’s botanical name ’dianthus’ is from the Greek words ‘dios’ – God and ‘anthus’ – flower. Translated it becomes the ‘divine flower’ – the flower of the gods’

One myth describes the carnation springing up from the tears of the Madonna. The Carthusian monks appreciated the pink’s beauty for we still call a pretty pink the “Carthusian pink’ because it was first found in the grounds of Carthusian monasteries. Certainly the carnation inspired great artists. Think of Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Madonna of the Carnation’ now housed in a Munich Art Gallery.Then there is Raphael’s ‘Aldobrandini Madonna’ where the Christ child shares a carnation with the infant John. Search it out in the National Gallery.

Why is it called a ‘pink?’ Probably because the edges of the petals look as if they were cut with pinking shears. Remember them? A clove carnation was also called a ‘gillyflower’ by Chaucer, Spenser and sometimes Shakespeare. But carnations are very much a flower of the 21st century – look up Allwoods Nursery and you will find a host of popular carnations. The nursery was started in 1910 and specialises in pinks and carnations and has the largest collection of dianthus plants in the world! We are told that ‘pinks make perfect plants for a sunny position, producing scented flowers throughout the summer and can be grown as a cut flower. They can tolerate hot, dry spells and the coldest of winters but are not too keen on getting over watered’. So go on, order Doris, Painted Lady or Mrs Sinkins….. Impress your friends by telling them that Mrs Sinkins was named after the wife of Mr Sinkins, the Superintendent of Slough workhouse! Honestly! Did you know that the emblematic flower of Slough is still the carnation?

Once you start looking you will see carnations everywhere – Elizabeth1 was often painted with the flower in her hand, visit many mosques in Turkey and most will be decorated with the lovely Iznik tiles decorated with not only carnations but also roses, tulips, lilies and hyacinths. Americans still love their Mother’s Day cards covered with carnations. Bridegrooms often choose carnations for a buttonhole. Green carnations remind us of Oscar Wilde. Red carnations often mark revolutions e.g. Portugal and Russia.

Twigs gave many more examples and much more information – a fascinating talk.

With apologies to Shakespeare – especially Mercurio in Romeo and Juliet….stay ‘in the pink’ until next month ……………………….

Mary Duff

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