Ancient Egypt (2800 – 28 BC)
The history of floral design begins in Ancient Egypt. The designs were highly stylized and focused on repetition and alteration of the colors red, yellow, and blue. Flowers were arranged in basins, wide mouth bowls made of gold, silver, or pottery. In addition, faience bowls were made of ground silicate. Bronze containers were also used. Table arrangements, however, were placed in low baskets and were typically topped with lotus flowers. The lotus was the sacred flower of the goddess Isis. This sacred flower was also used in chaplets and lotus buds or leaves were used to flank designs of regimented blossom rows.
Greek (600-146 BC)
The Greek period followed the Egyptian period. The Greeks commonly used flowers and plants as part of ceremony and they grew potted plants to provide the materials. They maintained the simplistic design of the Egyptians and incorporated designs that were more graceful. Fragrance replaced the importance of color and often petals were scattered on the ground during ceremonies. Wreaths, a symbol of allegiance and dedication, were used to adorn athletes, poets, and other heroes and olive branches were used during weddings.
Roman (28 BC – 325 AD)
During the Roman period, roses were often present at the evening meal; this time was given the name ‘Hour of the Rose’. The tradition of placing blossoms in scarves to be sacrificed at an alter developed in this period. In Roman floral arrangements, flowers were placed between feathery branches, leaving only the flowers clearly visible. These arrangements were placed in a likon, a basket that was high in the back and low in the front.
Byzantine (320-600 AD)
The conical design became popular during the Byzantine period. Densely packed foliage with fruit or flowers placed at regular intervals created this design. Small flowers were used to create arching lines. Lilies, star-shaped flowers, and branches of grapes were also popular materials. In these designs, neighboring hues created the color scheme.
Middle Ages (476 – 1000 AD)
The use of flowers and floral arrangements declined in the Middle Ages. Flowers were most often seen in the borders of manuscripts. Flowers were also painted on alters and see in Persian rugs. The Persian rug designs showed influence of Chinese symmetry and monochromatic and triadic color schemes.
Renaissance (1400 – 1600 AD)
During the Renaissance, commissioned artists began making floral arrangements. Designs were typically twice as tall as the height of the container, balanced, pyramidal, and of a triadic color scheme using intense colors. Arrangements were kept in Venetian glass, metal pedestal vases, and wide-mouth marble urns. During this time, they also began to use floral arrangements to decorate walls and vaulted ceilings.
Baroque/Flemish (1600 – 1775 AD)
The Baroque/Flemish period brought about more flamboyant designs with the introduction of the Hogarthian S-curve and the use of tulips. Prior to the popularity of the Hogarthian curve, most designs were massed, over flowing, oval, and symmetrical.
There were four period of floral design in French History. During the Baroque period, refinement, elegance, and femininity were stressed. In the design, there was no focal point and the largest flowers were typically placed on the outside edges of the arrangement. Topiary trees also gain popularity during this time.
The feminine design carried over into the French Rococo period. Rococo, meaning ‘graceful arc that forms line’, was an appropriate name for the period when asymmetrical, curvilinear C- shaped designs were formed.
In the Louis XVI period, Marie Antoinette popularized cool colors that were highlighted with gold. The designs of this period were more conservative than the previous periods.
Masculine designs dominated the Empire period, thanks to Napoleon. Militaristic designs replaced the formality and femininity of the previous eras and often arrangements displayed emblems identifiable with Napoleon, such as a bee or the letter N.
English-Georgian (1714- 1760 AD)
Floral design moved away from formality in the English-Georgian period. Designs, influenced by the Chinese, were symmetrical and triangular. Flowers also became fashionable for women to wear on their clothes or in their hair. This period also resulted in the Nosegay, also known as a Tussie Mussie. This design was a ‘knot of flowers’, a small hand held bouquet designed to disguise offensive odors that were thought to be unhealthy.
Victorian (1820 – 1901)
The Victorian Era was the first period to attempt to establish design rules, however during this time there was no definite style. Most arrangements were asymmetrical with large mass flowers in a compact arrangement.
American floral design developed slowly. In the Early American period (1620-1720), wild flowers, grains, and grasses were collected and placed in jugs or pans.
During the Colonial Williamsburg period (1724-1780), massed, round, and fan shaped designs became popular. Dried grasses and flowers were commonly used. These materials were arranged so that flowers with greater visual weight were placed at the rim.
During the American Federal period (1780-1920) designs were very similar to the English-Georgian style and most arrangements were pyramidal shaped.
Corsages became a popular arrangement in the 19th century. After the end of WWII, Japanese designs brought more line to American designs. American designs then included European mass and Oriental line.
Oriental design began when monks scattered branches and stems at alters. Chinese Buddhists then began to arrange flowers in bronze ceremonial vases. The designs were often symbolic with bright colors that were contrast to the color of the vase. In these arrangements, the darkest colors were placed on the outer edges and the lighter colors remained in the center.
Japanese design has the most complex history. There are a variety of styles and elements. The first, Ikenobo, means, “Giving life to flowers.” This focused on the refinement of art and ritual flower use by Japanese Buddhists.
Rikkwa designs depicted natural scenes. They were massive, symmetrical designs contained in bronze ceremonial vases. In this design, there were three levels, Shin, Soe, and Tai. Shin was the first line, representing the ‘distant view’; it represented the trees. Soe was the ‘middle view’ and represented shrubs. Tai created the third line; it represented the ‘close view’ and was composed of small flowers. Nejime was not a layer, but consisted of helper flowers to complete the design.
Shokwa design meant ‘quiet flower’ and was an informal, asymmetrical design. In Shokwa, Shin represented heaven, Tai represented earth, and humans, between heaven and earth, were Soe.
Nageire design meant ‘thrown in’, these designs were composed of curved lines, and informal everyday designs.
Moribana design referred to ‘piled up flowers’. These designs were natural and simple, they moved away from floral symbolism and they often depicted miniature gardens.
Jiyu-Bana, the last type of design, came about after the end of WWII. Western influence resulted in more free and natural designs.
Griner, C. (2002). Floriculture: Designing & Merchandising. Albany: Delmar Thomson Learning.
McDaniel, G. L. (1998). Floral Design & Arrangement 3rd Edition. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall.