Clues to the
Early passion flower depictions
compared to Joos van Cleve's
Artist' Madonna; a 1640s
painting by Albert
some interesting history about the early herbals and authors
Michael E. Abrams
did the mystery artist find
the model for
the passion flower he (or she) put into the 1535 Joos van
Cleve painting atop the red carnation?
Why was it added?
The question of source will be more easily answered than motive, which
is fodder for the historical imagination.
Was the addition of the flower a task of simple faith? Was it perhaps a
concession to fashion or custom? Could it have been an act of courage
during religious wars? Perhaps we have a dramatic scenario before our
eyes, lost to all but the novelist.
We do know that van Cleve would not have seen such a flower in his
lifetime. (For the original
article, click here).
The Flos passionis may
have been copied from one of the engravings below. Without a living
plant to paint from, the mystery artist would have had to interpret the
word-of-mouth descriptions of those who had traveled to the New
World. We can say with some confidence that the phantom painter
had not seen a
real flower – what we see is a stylized, religious analogue.
The van Cleve passion flower was added from rumor or report, probably
before the 1620s.
flower may have been growing in Europe by1580. The Spanish physician
Monardes (1493-1588) (Historia
medicinal de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales),
who did not provide an illustration, apparently writes that it was
growing in Seville, according to Terrada (see below). English
translation of his most important work is Joyfull newes out of the newe founde
An imperative resource is the chapter A
Brief History of the Passionflower by Emil Kugler and Leslie A.
King in Passiflora: Passionflowers of
the World by Torsten Ulmer and John Mochrie MacDougal,
published in 2004 by Timber Press.
The flower spread after the first decade of new century
flowers was grown in a garden elsewhere. We
know the 'maraco' grew in the garden of Louis XIII in France or that
of his master gardener, Jean Robin, as one can see among the
The word 'maraco' or 'murucuia" or something similar
hints of widespread use of such a name among native Americans, perhaps
in both North and South America, certainly linked to the 'maracock'
that Capt. John Smith described in Virginia. Another name, of course,
was the Spanish "granada" or "granadilla."
The religious symbolism of the flower was associated with the Church
and therefore the potency of such symbolism waxed and waned with the
onset of Protestantism and the advent of scientific thought. Herbalists
of the Reformation downplayed its religious significance, although the
name passiflora was
maintained by Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy who sought to reveal
"the divine order of God's creation."
Cincinnati museum curator Andy Haslit
suggests the example printed by John Parkinson might have been
the model. Parkinson apparently obtained the drawing from others.
Copying, borrowing and altering woodcuts was customary in those days,
it is difficult, if not impossible, to trace the origins of some of
The scholarly work Herbals
- Their Origin and Evolution
by botanist Agnes Arber (1938, Cambridge University Press) is the
for understanding what went on in the popular and competitive printing
of wonder-filled herbals in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
|From van Cleve
painting, ca, 1535. This work was temprarily removed from exhibit at
the Cincinnati Museum of Art and was examined by curator Andy Haslit
who discovered that the passion flower had been painted onto the
original much later in time, as we had suggested.
original painting was provided to us by the Cincinnati Museum. As one
can see, the passionflower sprouts from the carnation held by the
Madonna. Although such proliferation of flowers is not unknown in
paintings, it was unusual enough to call attention.
The frequent addition of significant flowers and fruit to religious
paintings, as well as the 'lamb' in paintings with St. John
the Baptist, multiplied the number of stories that could be told
in each work of art. The old world fruits of oranges, quinces,
cherries, peaches and grapes; and the flowers of carnations and lilies
and others, made the story even more delicious to an audience hungry
for symbolism. Each plant and animal represented a concept. The
sweetness of heaven was in the cherry; the purity of the Madonna in the
Some of the engravings and illustrations clearly show the three stigma
(nails) and five stamen (wounds) that were representative to the Church
of the crucificion of Christ. The crown of thorns at the top of the
flower is a religiously - inspired hyperbole of how the flower actually
The church was eager to show that this strange and miraculous New
World, somehow forgotten in the scriptures, was linked in some way to
Christianity. How could Christ have existed in this new and golden
land? That there was no link would disprove the bible and send theology
into a tailspin.
Churchmen were eager to dispute what they thought of as the
superstitions of the natives of the Indies. Here was evidence, in
the passion flower, that the message of the crucificion and
resurrection was meant for all mankind.
Early painting of several varieties of the new flower was by the Jesuit
Daniel Seghers (1590-1661), a pupil of Jan Breughel th Elder, who lived
in Rome 1625-7, according to floral botanical authority Sam Segal, who
is cited by Maria Jose Lopez Terrada in an essay Hernandez and Spanish Painting in the
Seventeenth Century in Searching
for the Secrets of Nature, edited by Simon Varey, Rafael
Chabron and Dora Weiner, one of two new valuable volumes on Hernandez,
published by Stanford University Press, 2000.
Seghers, who later worked in Antwerp, was celebrated for his paintings
of religious scenes framed by lavish garlands and wreaths of flowers.
We do not yet have a representation of his passion flower for our
pages, but are inquiring.
This was an age of was a simple belief in truth. Those who did not have
the faith and were not baptized would spend eternity in Hell. In
the twenty-first century, we regard with skepticism much of what is
taught in the name of religion. We have grown comfortable in our
material world, one governed by scientific thought.
Who will imagine the motive of the mystery artist who
painted the passion flower atop the carnation? What
were the circumstances that moved his hand four hundred years
Dominican monk Simone Parlasca's drawing of a passion flower in a
pamphlet dated 1609, Bologna. Kugler and King (2004) say that this was
probably based on original dried plants. Poems in the pamphlet related
flower to the "Fiore della Granadiglia overo della passione di nostro
Signore Giesu Christo." (Courtesy of
Leslie A. King).
Eugenio Petrelli depicted this flower in 1610 as a frontispiece in a
book by Antonia Possevino, write Kugler and King. This was a form that
used in pamphlets of the time. (Courtesy of Leslie A. King)
One of the most dazzling
collections of historical and 'miraculous'
science was Johann Zahn's compendium
Reports of exotic and fantastic creations could be seen as proof
of the veracity of religious text and God's work on earth in
the 17th Century, even as they are in some religious quarters today.
Johann Zahn (1631- 1707) a canon of the Church in Wurzburg, was also
a scientist - an inventor of the camera obscura - which let
artists trace three dimensions on two-dimensional board. He was a
connoisseur of the occult. Torn between the science of the times
and the holy, he set on paper a mammoth
survey of the world in Speculae -
Physico- Mathematico - Historicae . . . (1696). Along with
diagrams from the new sciences and the telescope, he added bizarre
drawings of sea dragons and mermen, based on reported sightings.
His book was a cabinet of wonders and speculation - but who would deny
in an age when witches allegedly metaposed into cats, alchemists
claimed to transform lead to gold, and geese hatched from seashells.
Citing Monardes, the great physician - botanist who had
heard reports of the 'flos passionis' and wrote about it in the 1570s,
Zahn realized it had been found in Brazil and Peru, and
even Virginia. It grew in Europe by 1623, years before he was born. He
chose to represent it as a miracle. Here was Christ's passion, the
three spikes for the stigma, the crown of thorns, the column to which
Christ had been tied. See the similar Parkinson drawing below.
Parkinson got his woodcut or engraving from the Jesuits. Other plants
were found. Someone imagined the crucifixion in the root or stem of the
plant at right, perhaps a radish. The religious imagination was at
work in the field of botany for centuries, and Christianity pushed the
metaphor. Stories of such finds make the news today.
Credit the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Library in Silver Spring,
Maryland - and its invaluable online photographic documentation program
- for this picture from the rare Zahn book. We thank Skip Theberge,
reference librarian, for finding the Latin explanation. The NOAA
library is a valuable resource of color pictures of nature, news and
NOAA history, with some attention to natural disasters. NOAA pages are
Giacomo Bosio's version from 1610 has
crown of thorns, leaves that are not
accurate. Bosio, an ecclesiastic and historian
wrote that the Spanish called the flower
"La Flor de las cinco Llagas" or the
'The Flower With The Five Wounds.'
(Courtesy Mauro Serricchio).
From John Parkinson in 1629 Herball presenting
earlier Jesuit drawing,
innacurate leafs, and "crown
of thorns." Somewhat like the drawing in Bosio. This also is a suspect
for the van Cleve
mystery artist's version. (Florida State University Library)
From 'ancient print'
From Hone's Every-Day Book (1825-1826). Hone
says it is "from an
ancient print" and it does have
the Jesuits' crown of thorns.
1825, real passion
flowers were grown in many places in England and
hybrids were noted by him. The picture looks as
if it must have
originated in the
early 1600s. http://www.uab.edu/english/hone/etexts
/edb/introduction.html (University of Alabama
at Birmingham, Kyle Grimes)
From John Parkinson, representing flower as it
Great Britain, in 1629.
One of the early true representations,
probably Passiflora incarnata. (Florida
From Gerard's Herball, 1636 in Great Britain, probably Passiflora incarnata. His first
edition of 1595 did not mention this flower. (Florida State
Francisco Hernandez, Rerum Medicarum,
Novae Hispaniae, 1651 (Florida State
University Special Collections)
Hernandez botanized Mexico
Hernandez, ibid. A court physician to the Spanish king, he traveled for
seven years in the New World from 1571-1577 on orders of Philip II to
catalog medicinal herbs, according to an entry in Wikipedia. This book
was published in Mexico in 1615, and another edition followed in 1648
from Rome. These were published after his death in 1587. Two recent
books on Hernandez are reviewed
by Donna Bleichmar in the journal Medical History. These
publications are The Mexican
treasury: the writings of Dr Francisco Hernández edited
by Simon Varey, Stanford University Press (2000), and a companion volume by Varey
and others, Searching for the
secrets of nature: the life and works of Dr Francisco Hernández.
They are the first English translations.
Writes Bleichmar: Over these
six years Hernández visited the major hospitals, interviewed
numerous European and Amerindian informers, cared for victims of
epidemic diseases, and compiled descriptions of thousands of plants and
hundreds of animals and minerals. The original manuscript of
Hernández's Natural history of New
Spain—six folio volumes of
text and ten containing illustrations of plants and animals—was the
most complete repository of first-hand knowledge on New World materia medica
at the time. It provided information on Amerindian medical knowledge,
which was rapidly disappearing due to death and conversion, and also
described plants that held enticing medical and commercial promise for
Image of 'Maraco Indica'
From Pierre Vallet's book Le jardin
du Roy tres chrestien Loys XIII published in 1623, image
courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden.
This book displays engravings of flowers grown in the gardens of both
Louis XIII of France, and his royal gardener Jean Robin. The 1623
version has 20 more
engravings than the 1608 edition. The flower appeared in the garden
between editions. We are grateful for assistance by L. Anathea Brooks
of UNESCO who was able to access the recent republication of the
1608 edition, Le
jardin du Roy tres chrestien Henry IV Roy de France et de Navare dedie
a la royne at the Librairie des Jardins in the Tulleries Garden.
An English translation of the 1623 French description, courtesy of
Suzanne Levin of Palo Alto, California, is as follows:
All its great filaments as far
the first circle are [part] of a fine columbine: the circle of carmine,
the middle circle of yellow, the next circle in the first [color], the
next circle of a fine yellow, the two smallest circles red like the
outer ones with a bit of yellow, the five stamens of a slightly
greenish yellow with red insides; the three sorts of nails like the
stamens, the column-like heart, and the little green knob, which
supports all the filaments are green.
Early North American
From the book The natural history of
the rarer lepidopterous Insects of Georgia including their systematic
characters, the particulars of their several metamorphoses, and the
plants on which they feed, collected from the observation of Mr. John
Abbot, many years resident in that country. By James Edward
Smith. Published 1797.
This shows the Passiflora incarnata which
we have photographed many
times, along with the gulf fritillary butterfly at the top. We are not
sure of the identification of the butterfly or moth at the bottom of
the picture. This species of passion flower is the hardiest and grows
up into the eastern seaboard. It was first mentioned by Capt.
John Smith of Virginia who spoke of how the flower was grown for food
by the Indians.
The fruit was called the 'maracock.' Archaeological evidence
exists of widespread use of the fruit in native diets. One such site is
the San Luis mission in Tallahassee where such finds have been
catalogued through numbers of seeds found analyzing the earthen floors
of habitations. The fruit is still plentiful in areas around Lake
Jackson, where pre-Spanish Indian mounds are protected in a state site.
Image courtesy Missouri
Naturalis Brasiliae 1648
Frontispiece from the famous 1648 Historia
Naturalis Brasiliae by the Dutchmen Willem Piso, Joannes
de Laet, Georg Marggraf - who were also associated with Dutch artists
French Post and Albert Eckhout in Brasil. Written in Latin,
digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden, brightened a little in
Photoshop. Illustrations of Passiflora from this book are at the
right. It is surely possible that Eckhout or Post painted the original
for the frontispiece. The Governor of Dutch Brasil, Johan Moritz,
had invited eight scientists and artists to the new land, including
Post and Eckhout. Pictures of "murucuia" are to the right, but
the Dutchmen recognized the Hispanic "Granadilla" and the vulgo "flos Passionis." To the
right are three llustrations from the book, courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
depicted in Historia
Above is called Murucuia guacu
by the Dutch. Top Left is called Murucuia maliformis, bottom
Albert Eckhout ca.1641
Early European Painting
One of the earliest European paintings that included the passionflower
was a work by Albert Eckhout. It was a still-life painted during or
after his trip to Brazil, probably 1641-43. The Dutch painter's 12
still-lifes and eight ethnographic portraits of racial blendings in
Brazil are among his famous works.
Information about Eckhout and his other paintings can be found in
Edward J. Sullivan's wonderful new book The Language of Objects in the
Art of the Americas (2007, Yale University Press). It's
the best interpretations of art related to the new world. Another
highly recommended book is The New Golden
Land: European Images of
America from the Discoveries to the Present Time by Hugh Honour
New York, Pantheon Books).
Requests were made to use a slide of this painting from Nationalmuseet,
Copenhagen, The National Museum of Denmark, Ethnographic Collection.
Although we haven't the privilege of hearing from them after several
weeks, we believe the copyright on paintings of the masters has long
expired, at any rate. We would like to visit this museum some
day, one of the famous repositories of information about the New
World. It's high on our list.
The large flower in the painting appears to be Passiflora edulis
flavicarpa, according to Myles Irvine, of the Passiflora Society
International, with the yellow split fruit up front and possibly the
greenish-yellow whole pear-shaped fruit in the foreground. If it is the
fruit, it is more rounded these days, he observes, possibly changing in
breeding during the 400 years since. Numbers of style and stamen are
sometimes variable in passiflora according to Irvine, as the typical
three stigma and five stamen are not quite distinguishable by number
and location in the painting. Irvine's valuable and comprehensive
website is at http://www.passionflow.co.uk/
Philip Reinagle (late 1700s)
The Blue Passion Flower
From an original by artist Philip Reinagle, published in one of the
first and finest great illustrated flora, Temple of Flora, by Dr.
John Thornton (1768-1837). Thornton was a medical doctor
passion for botanical publishing led him to great undertakings
as this work, part one of which was called A New Illustration of the
Sexual System of
Carolus von Linnaeus. He hired engravers to
original paintings of noted artists in Britain. The
plates are now preserved at the Royal Botanic Gardens
This page was reproduced from the 1799 London volume
Picturesque Botanical Plates of the New
Illustration of the
Sexual System of Linnaeus and it is printed
of Heritage Collection, State
Library of New South Wales.