Botanical and Horticulture Photography PALM SYMBOLISM 1

Botanical and Horticulture Photography PALM SYMBOLISM

On the mountains is freedom¡ the breath of decay

Never sullies the fresh flowing air;

Oh¡ nature is perfect wherever we stray;

‘Tis man that deforms it with care.

“From Schiller´s Bride of Messina, as translated by A. Lodge”


House of Life was the name of an epic symbolic cycle by George Frederic Watts, an English Victorian painter associated with the Symbolist movement:

In this art, scenes from nature, human activities, and all other real world phenomena will not be described for their own sake; here, they are perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with the primordial Ideals.

“(Original text in french: Ainsi, dans cet art, les tableaux de la nature, les actions des humains, tous les phénomènes concrets ne sauraient se manifester eux-mêmes ; ce sont là des apparences sensibles destinées à représenter leurs affinités ésotériques avec des Idées primordiales).”


In the following post titled Botanical and Horticulture Photography: PALM SYMBOLISM 1 I will use the book The Floral Symbolism of the Great Masters by Elizabeth Haig, 1913, to recreate, through her chapter about Palms, a Photo Documentary about palm trees.

Botanical and Horticulture Photography PALM SYMBOLISM



1. The Romans took palms for their symbol of

Victory. There is a sarcophagus in the Vatican

on which is carved a Roman conqueror with

captive barbarians kneeling before him, and the

winged Victory who crowns him with laurel

holds a palm in her left hand.




2. Simon Maccabees, after he had taken the

Tower of Jerusalem, entered it

” with thanksgiving,

and branches of palm trees and with

harps”. And the seers of Scripture saw palms

in heaven:

” A great multitude, which no man

could number, of all nations, and kindreds and

people, and tongues, stood before the throne

and before the Lamb clothed with white robes,

and palms in their hands”.  “These be they

that have put off the mortal clothing and put

on the immortal, and have confessed the name

of God; now are they crowned and receive


Palms were therefore the meed of martyrdom,

the symbol of the martyrs’ victory over death.

“. . . The angel said

God liketh thy request,

And bothe with the palme of martirdome.

Ye shallen come unto His blissful rest”.




3. During the first three centuries of Christianity

Christian art concerned itself almost

exclusively with the events recounted in the

Old and New Testaments and the Apocryphal

Gospels. “But during the fourth century artists

began to represent the acts of the martyrs, at

the bidding of Saint Basil, who called to his aid

illustrious painters of athletic combats, to paint

with resplendent colours the martyr Barlaam,

the crowned athlete, whom he found himself

unable adequately to describe. … A fresco

came to light in 1887, under the Church of SS.

Giovanni e Paolo on the Celian Hill, which shows

three Christians being put to death beneath

the rule of Julian the Apostate, kneeling with

eyes bound and hands tied behind their backs.

This may be considered as the first representation

of a martyrdom. . .”



4. Sixtus III (432-440), as is shown by the inscription

which is read above the principal door

of Santa Maria Maggiore, had had the instruments

of their martyrdom painted only beneath

the feet of the martyrs.

Ecce tui testes uteri sibi proemia portant

Sub pedibusque jacet passio cuique sua.

Ferrum, flamma, ferae, fluvius, saevumque venerium

Tot tamen has mortes una corona manet.

(Translation: Behold, thy witness which carry the rewards for himself

And beneath his feet lies the passion of each man ‘.

Iron, a flame, fierce, and the river, and the savage and a Venus

With all those deaths, however, one of the crown of these remains).



5. Thus in the fourth century there were representations

of martyrdoms, and in the fifth century

single figures of the martyrs more or less idealized,

but they apparently carried the crown of victory,

‘ the crown of their high calling,’ not the palm.

But though the crown was generally used, the

palm of the primitive Christian Church was not

forgotten, for, as Cassiodorus, writing at the

beginning of the sixth century, points out, it

was palms which, in the eyes of the people,

indicated those strong athletes who were vic-

torious, and advocates their use as a religious




6. Palms at this period seem to have been used

as an emblem of the public games themselves.

On the consular diptyches, the double tablets

of ivory which a consul had carved to commemorate

his entry into office, it was customary

to put palms beneath the figure of the consul,

among the bags of money and other objects that

were supposed to represent the benefits which

would accrue to the populace beneath his rule.



(end of part 1)

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