oil painting © Sir Godfrey Kneller
mary wortley montagu (1689-1762) brought the language of flowers to the english court from turkey, home of the tulip.
she discovered floriography joining her husband, a british ambassador, on a 2-year ottoman excursion. she wrote extensively about her experiences, known as her 'turkish embassy letters'. questioning contemporary social attitudes towards women and their intellectual and social growth.
it wasn't just the art of conveying sensitive messages that montagu brought back from turkey, she also brought back the practice of inoculation against smallpox, a practice that ultimately led to the concept of the vaccine.


flowers were used cryptically as a means of expressing passions that the strict etiquette of the era prevented from being overtly expressed. mainly for flirting and friendship, as well as deeper feelings for forbidden loves.
color meant everything: a red rose, as we all know, symbolizes romantic love, a more gentle pink for thanks, and goofy yellow for friendship.

when a bouquet was received, how did the gentleman know if the advances were accepted?
a short crash course:

if the bouquet was held at the heart level - the recipient liked what they saw.

if the bouquet was held down - not this time, buddy.
also the bouquet was placed into the right hand of someone to answer with a 'yes' or the left hand for 'no'.
seems like showing feelings has never really been easy in any century.

iphone photograpy 'like a fragonard' © nick knight, 2017

illustrated postcard © dumbarton oaks archives 



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