#FolkloreThursday 08/02/2018: “the course of true love never did run smooth”

For this week’s #FolkloreThurdsay #Love theme we thought we’d add an extra dimension of our own by sharing some of the symbolic representations of love we found while exploring our collections.

As we know from any contemporary perfume advertisement, a pleasing aroma is key to attraction and romance but its association with courtship can be found in ancient writings. According to George Barbier, author of The Romance of Perfume, 1928, the Greek biographer Plutarch, said “the soul of a man in love is full of perfumes and sweet odours”

Judging from the illustrations then, women are not blessed with the innate gift of their love giving off a sweet odour and instead had to rely on the perfume seller!

Now on to medieval times, when the ladies would present knights with their jewels as tokens of their affection before their loved ones went into battle, as William Jones explains in Precious Stones Their History and Mystery, 1880.

Precious Stones: Chapter II

The story of the Lady of Astolat who later dies from unrequited love was the inspiration for many artworks and literature, including Tennyson’s 1833 poem The Lady Of Shallot, and John William Waterhouse’s painting of the same name, 1888.

What discussion of romance and love symbolism would be complete without considering plants and flowers. The Flora Symbolica or the language and sentiment of flowers by John Ingram c 1870 acknowledges that there are many different types of love: bashful, pure, hopeful, silent, concealed, unrequited, etc. etc. and they can all fortunately be  symbolised with the presentation of a specific flower.

The rose is the flower most associated with romantic love.

The Rose

Shakespeare Sonnet from The Book of Perfume, 1865

And of course, the secret to true love, according to Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream also lies in a potion that can be extracted from the purple, yellow and white flower known as love-in-idleness:

Character Costumes for ‘A Midsomer Night’s Dreame’ 1924

If nothing else writing this post has highlighted the history of traditional Valentine gifts: flowers, perfume and jewellery – I just needed chocolate for a bit of completionism!


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