Art of Floristry 101
For this article, we talk about floral design and how it developed from initial use in ancient history to the traditional (Western) and oriental (Eastern), and finally to the modern style of floral design. We go over each significant period in history, beginning from Ancient Egypt, to the Middle Ages, to the different artistic movements in France, to the Victorian Period both in Europe and America, to its contemporary form today.
If you are interested in a formal course or want to get certified as an expert on everything related to the industry, we recommend looking into professional bodies and colleges in floristry such as the American Institute of Floral Designers or the AIFD (www.aifd.org), the Society of American Florists (www.safnow.org), the American Floral Endowment (www.endowment.org) and other similar organizations offering programs specializing in floristry.
Floral Design around the Globe
Gathering information from various professional bodies of floristry and data obtained by paleobotanists and historians, we have pulled together a timeline of the changes that occurred in floral design over the ages. From a primarily symmetrical balance dominating designs in different period to the gradual inclination towards asymmetrical styles with emphasis on rhythmic combinations, here is a comprehensive play by play of the development of floral design throughout eras in human history.
Egyptian Period (2800 – 28 BC)
During this period, Ancient Egyptians primarily used flowers for temple offerings and arranged as centerpieces for banquet tables. More lucrative flowers like jasmine, violets, and poppies were used as garlands and wreaths for their guests, as a sign of social status. Their choice of style was mostly a repetition of simple patterns, usually composed of a single flower with one or two leaves on either side, and repeated throughout the design.
Greek Period (600 – 150 BC)
Similar to the Egyptians, the Greeks used flowers in various religious practices, usually in the form of garlands and wreaths, laurels. This was also where cornucopias first emerged as a staple in festive activities, since the Greeks commonly used triangular and symmetrical designs for their arrangements, normally including white blossoms as a sign of purity.
Roman Period (28 BC – 325 AD)
The Romans continued the use of flowers as the Greeks did in their Greek customs and traditions, building upon it and creating more elaborate and intricately designed garlands, wreaths, and ceremonial crowns. It was also during this period that people started using the scent of flowers as factor in making floral arrangements.
Byzantine Period (320-600 AD)
Heavily referencing Greek and Roman styles, the Byzantine Period displayed the innovation of fruits mixed in with flowers in the creation of garlands. Trees and foliage were styled in vases symmetrically, and used analogous (green, blue-green, blue, violet) color accented with its warm counterparts (red, red-orange, orange, yellow).
Middle Ages (476-1400 AD)
Floral patterns and flowers as muses in artistic creations died down and appeared almost exclusively in tapestries, creating a line of flower-centric cloths called millefleur. This literally translated to “thousand flowers”, which comprised the designs on large tapestries, carpets, and the rare painting. Monks across Europe tended to their gardens to increase the number of species and cultures of flowers and foliage that would serve as the subject of many art forms later on in history.
Renaissance Period (1400-1600)
With some continuance of the symmetrical balance akin to oriental floral design, Renaissance artists also included fruits and foliage in floral art and design, which then led to the creation of now world-renowned Christmas wreaths. Like what would later on be dubbed “traditional” styles of arrangement, Renaissance artists were fond of flowers en masse in their floral arrangements.
Baroque (Flemish) Period (1600-1775)
Still upholding symmetrical balance in their design, Baroque artists were the ones to determine floral designs as professional floristry had yet to be established. Because of this, nonexistent flowers were often paired together as part of artist’s liberty. Combined with a continuance of the Renaissance era’s en masse use of flowers, artists from the Flemish period began using not only fruits but nests and birds, leaning towards more asymmetrical designs.
French Period (1600-1814)
During this period, there was an apparent divide in the styles prominent in floral arrangement, moving from symmetrical and delicate, arc-shaped designs in the Baroque period (1600-1750) and Rococo (1750-1785), to the simpler, triangular shaped styles of periods under King Louis XVI (1785-1800) and the Empire (1620-1720).
Early American Period (1620-1720)
Still existing under the colonial rule of European powers, early American florists primarily copied their designs from the French Empire and English Georgian periods. They usually arranged flowers en masse with numerous colors to decorate their homes.
English Georgian Period (1714-1760)
Serving as a template for for the latter parts of the early American period, floral arrangements during this era normally consisted of simple bunches of flowers inserted in a vase or sturdy containers. The careful intricacies of design were discovered later on, with some vases even created specifically for holding flowers and keeping them at certain angles.
Colonial Williamsburg Period (1740-1780)
As colonial settlers became more established, there was more room for creativity and the arts, including floral arrangements. Artists from this period commonly put together fine-feathered foliage and field grasses in fan-shaped arrangements with bold, floral blooms at the center.
Victorian Period (1837-1901)
Here, floral design became more lavish and consisted of an overflow in flowers amongst a mix of foliage in containers. Triangular and circular shaped designs were the norm, with the nearly consistent use of roses as Europe’s favorite, complemented with lilies, tulips, dahlias, and other common garden flowers.
American Victorian Period (1820-1920)
Spilling over from Europe, America’s own iteration of the Victorian period resulted in floral arrangements mainly using cool colors like royal purple, ocean blue, magenta, and a bunch of white flowers. There was a continuance of vases created specifically for holding flowers and began a trend of containers with different materials manufactured for that very purpose.
Modern/ Contemporary Period (1890-Present)
While the beginning of this period varies from 1890 to 1910, experts on the history of floristry agree that the modern era of floral design quickly departed from Victorian style flower arrangement and created their own. Here, we see a clear reference to oriental floral design with the heavy emphasis on lines, combined with the trend of en masse flower arrangements from traditional or Western style.