Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fleur de lys

click photo to enlarge
Ornament is fascinating. In the past it mattered more than today, and people decoded it, knowing how it originated. The anthemion ( from the Greek for "flower") and palmette (a palm-like leaf design) are very common in Greek and Roman architecture, being found on antefixae, the Ionic Order, and cornices. Yet, it is thought that the palmette originated in Egypt, drawn from the papyrus flower, or perhaps the lotus or lily, and was associated with the idea of the Tree of Life. Anthemion, often called "honeysuckle" from its similarity to the shape of that flower, is frequently paired (or alternated) with palmette, and is associated with another foliate ornament, acanthus, which itself may derive from cabbage leaves!

Now you may think this very abstruse, esoteric even, yet I guarantee that you can go into any major town or city and see multiple examples of palmette and anthemion (as well as acanthus). That is because they are examples of ornamental designs that have stayed with us down the ages. In much the same way that the fleur-de-lys has. This form is usually associated with the French monarchy (or the Boy Scouts!), and it too derives from a plant: in this case the iris flower (in the past called a lily). There are those who think the fleur-de-lys (or lis if you prefer) originated in Mesopotamian decorative design. But the French date it to the fifth century Frankish King Clovis, and track it through Charlemagne and the many Louis, until it was supplanted by the Revolution's tricolour. Others say its tri-form represented the Trinity, and that it came to be associated with Mary due to the association of the lily with the virtue of purity. Whatever the truth, it has remained popular for centuries if not millennia. Look around where you live, and you'll certainly see it still used in both two and three-dimensional form. My example is from the Victorian railings around a grave in a Lincolnshire churchyard, and was photographed on a very frosty morning.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -1.0EV
Image Stabilisation: On