Art, in its many forms and shapes, is one of the ways human beings are able to express themselves and generate beauty. In this article, we will explore the art of flowers, some of their symbolic meanings, as well as some fun facts about them, through the experience of Italian artist Luca Nuvoli.
Born and raised in the northeastern city of Udine, Luca Nuvoli, 49, has been working with plants and flowers and crafting original pieces of art for many years. His creativity, though, ranges from photography to mixed-media installations and even poetry, which makes Luca a well-rounded artist, always willing to experiment and grow.
From a young age, Luca was multi-talented and interested in crafting, designing, creating, drawing, painting, and experimenting with different media and materials. His regular visits to the Biennale of Venice and investigations into several artists’ works stimulated his imagination and kept his inspiration thriving. He had a strong passion for photography; therefore, he specialized in it at the Art School in Udine. He worked as a photographer for years and, eventually, decided to take up the family business and become a successful flower artist. Luca still participates in several projects, which keep him immersed in a world of beauty and art and gives him numerous opportunities to express his creativity.
We asked him some questions about his experience with flowers. Luca explained that each plant symbolizes and is associated with a particular meaning. The flower language originated centuries ago: The first most popular and extensive manual on the topic was probably Le Language des fleurs (The flower language), which includes some beautiful lithographs and was written by the French noblewoman Mme. Louise Cotambert, in 1820, under the pseudonym of Charlotte de Latour. Le language des fleurs is Luca’s favorite resource; however, the symbolic language of flowers dates even further back. This is proven by a series of letters composed by the wife of the English ambassador in Constantinople (current Istanbul), Mary Wortley Montagu, who in 1716 accompanied her husband during his appointment. In her correspondence back to England, she described various aspects of the Ottoman customs and culture with special attention to the life of women and floral messages.
We asked Luca about some of the symbols and meanings of flowers and he shared some interesting stories.
Few know that the true flower of love is the tulip. According to an ancient Persian tale, a stonecutter named Farhad was in love with Princess Shirin, but knowing he was too poor and humble for her, he used his flute to produce beautiful music in her honor while he was fasting on the mountains. The whole village started to talk about him and, when the Princess was taken to the mountains by her courtesan and heard Farhad’s music, she fell in love with him.
Unfortunately, Shirin’s father, the Shah, was not willing to accept this relationship and arranged a plan to discourage Farhad. He gave the young man an extremely hard task to perform: only after accomplishing it would he be allowed to be with Shirin. The stonecutter accepted the challenge, but when he was about to succeed, the Shah sent a messenger to tell him that the Princess was dead, a lie aiming to push Farhad to leave. Sadly, the stone cutter took his life with his spade and when Shirin, devastated by the news, ran to him and saw him lying in the canal he was digging, she killed herself with the same spade. Their blood ran united into the canal and, since then, every spring, red tulips grow and blossom where their blood was spilled as a reminder of this pure, powerful, and tragic love. The tulip also represents strength: the name originates from the Turkish word for ‘turban’ as the flower’s appearance resembles the shape of the headcover Turkish warriors used to wear.
Another plant with an interesting message to it is basil. We all see basil as a beautiful aromatic herb; however, few people know that for the Greeks and Egyptians it was linked to the dead, as they used it as one of the components to embalm their corpses.
Also in the famous “Decameron,” a collection of 100 novellas written by the Italian Giovanni Boccaccio between 1348 and 1353, (during the Black Death), basil assumes a negative and deadly connotation. In the story of “Lisabetta da Messina,” Lisabetta falls in love with Lorenzo, a young man who manages her brothers’ affairs. They do not accept the relationship, kill Lorenzo and tell Lisabetta that he has left for a business trip. Lorenzo appears in the girl’s dreams and leads her to the woods where his body lays. Despairing over her loss, she cuts his head off and hides it in a pot where she grows a basil plant. Every day, she waters the basil with her tears, until her brothers discover her secret. They steal the pot and leave Lisabetta brokenhearted, and she passes away from her sorrow. So basil, despite its unique and delicious flavor, symbolizes death and hatred.
Our last curiosity is about the laurel/bay leaf, a plant that in many countries is used to mark intellectuals and for special events like graduations or official sport awards. “Laurel” comes from the Latin word Laurus. According to the Greek mythology, Apollo, (God of the Sun), scorned Eros (God of Love), who in revenge hit Apollo with a golden arrow, making him fall in love with Dafne, a nymph, daughter of Peneo (God of the River). Eros also hit Dafne, but with a lead arrow, in order for her to despise Apollo, who chased her everywhere. Desperate to escape, Dafne asked her father to turn her into something different and she became a laurel tree. From that moment, the plant was honored and cherished, and it is used in many formal celebrations. In Italy, laurel wreaths are used for graduations, either worn around the neck or on a graduate’s head, with diverse colored ribbons depending on the faculty.
Finally, before Luca bid us farewell with a lilly, the flower of friendship, we asked him to share one last fun fact about himself and we discovered that he has a large collection of hats from all over the world, which he put together over the years and is very proud of.
If you are thinking of gifting someone with flowers, ensure that you choose the right ones, as you might deliver the wrong message to the person you least would like to receive it!!