Saturday, January 25, 2014

Question from Brenda - Flower in Mor portrait of Mary I

In a portrait of Mary Tudor painted by Anthonis Mors in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, she is holding a flower. It is not clear if this is the Tudor rose or a carnation. I understand the latter can represent betrothal and this painting was done for her new husband Phillip II of Spain.
Can you shed any light on this? I know the same portrait is also in the Prado.


PhD Historian said...

The flower is a red rose. If you go to Web Gallery of Art, you can view there a reasonably high resolution image of the painting. Note the two leaves at the lower left margin of the flower. They are relatively broad in shape. In contrast, the leaves of carnations (aka “pinks”), genus Dianthus, are quite narrow. Rose leaves are broader, as seen in the painting. Also, the center of the flower in the painting is yellow. The pollen-bearing reproductive centers of most Dianthus species, including carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus), are most commonly a lighter shade of the same color as the flower’s petals, while the same parts of a rose flower are most commonly yellow, as seen here.

The rose in the painting is probably a simple English rose rather than a specifically “Tudor” rose, since the petals are all the same color. As you know, the Tudor rose is an imaginary combination of the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster used for heraldic and symbolic purposes. It does not exist in nature, and I am not aware of any sixteenth-century English portrait in which the sitter holds a bi-colored rose. Tudor roses are instead included in portraits only as part of some heraldic emblem and are usually presented in a less realistic manner.

Red roses have a variety of symbolic meanings. In this instance, it may be a rebus device for the sitter’s name, perhaps even her sexual status as well, since roses are symbolically associated with the Virgin Mary. It may also have the symbolic meaning of love, a sentiment Mary is said to have expressed toward Philip even before she met him in person.

Kate said...

Actually bicolor roses were first cultivated in Vienna by Carolus Clasuis around 1583 by combining the Persian yellow rose to European standard roses of various colors. Today there exist over 200 specific bicolored roses. I have several types in my garden including a beautiful red and white specimen.

PhD Historian said...

Yes, there are hybridized roses that do contain two colors blended together *on each petal*. That color pattern is more correctly called "variegated", not bi-color, at least in a botancial sense. And I know some rose hybridizers have developed roses with one solid color on the front of each petal and another solid color on the back of each petal, which they call "bi-color". But I have never seen a live rose that in any way resembles the iconic Tudor rose, with an inner group of petals entirely of solid white and an outer groups of petals entirely of solid red. But I am not a rose lover, so maybe I have missed something? I would love to see a live Tudor rose! I'd like to plant a few in my yard!

Kate said...

Rosa Gallica officinalis (the red rose of Lancaster) and Rosa alba semiplena (the white rose of York)
have never to my knowledge been grafted together however the rose Rosa damascenia versicolor was considered by many to be the Tudor rose, It is a verigated rose from Provence but grown in England for the Tudors. It is more pink and red than white and red but color variations do exist so that is an example of a verigated rose growing in the 16th century. All these roses had promenent yellow stamins however the red rose white a BICOLOR rose hybrid is the closest to what I think a Tudor rose would look like with dark red outer petals and cream white inner petals and a bright yellow stamin. The presentation of these roses can appear as several layers of red around several layers of white petals when they are opening but are not the true white on red of the emblematic Tudor rose. The first three roses I mentioned are lovely, hearty plants with wonderful fragrance so prehaps you would like to try them in your yard, the later as with all hybrids is a bit tricky and since you are not a rosarian best to start with something hearty

Leanda de Lisle said...

It is the red rose of the House of Lancaster from which both Mary and Philip were descended in legitimate line (unlike her Tudor father). I seem to recall that in the portrait the Infanta Isabella sent to James VI&I on his accession to the English throne she wears a dress with the red roses on it, also as a symbol of their joint Lancastrian heritage - thought James only through the illegitimate Beaufort/Tudor line