Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jeudi de Josephine: A Rose for the Empress

A lot has been written on Josephine’s love of roses…The lady was an avid collector indeed; cultivating well over 250 varieties of roses. Her passion for this particular flower was apparently inspired by a portrait by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun of Marie Antoinette holding a rose …

Although Josephine’s love of flowers began when she was but a young girl in Martinique, she really began experimenting and collecting when she purchased the Chateau Malmaison. This is where she established her reputation as the greatest contributor to France’s development of the rose. She was a true trend setter followed by wealthy French aficionados who indulged in spreading the love of roses.

Josephine wanted to collect every species possible. This was a hefty project in which she also managed to involve Napoleon. In fact, Bonaparte made sure that his army seized any rose seeds or plants wherever they landed or conquered in order to please his Josephine. In addition, serious collecting was insured to the point of having passports issued to gardeners, as well as allowing safe passage through check points or blockades. All this to make sure that the Empress safely received any foreign purchase.

Josephine changed the traditional perception that roses be used solely for medicinal and aromatic purposes. The rose could now be enjoyed for its awesome beauty. To further the pure enjoyment of this precious flower, the Empress also changed the look of the traditional garden from ‘mixed flowers’ to sections dedicated to arrangements of this one special flower solely. This simple, yet grand-looking arrangement set the rose garden in a class of its own- rendering this flower even more majestic and rare in its beauty.

The gardens of Malmaison were spectacular with roses of all species being bred and developed for all to admire. The Empress commissioned the botanical artist Pierre Joseph Redoute, who had also been employed by the Court of Marie Antoinette, to paint each and every specimen collected and grown at Malmaison. She also asked that a brief text accompany every illustration. Redoute’s paintings were remarkably accurate- depicting the true beauty of every single rose. From Josephine’s garden, he got most of the material needed to publish 3 volumes of the most important work on roses. Sadly, Josephine passed away a few years before Redoute published his books, so she never got to see the completed artwork.

What happened to the lovely gardens after Josephine’s death? Well, unfortunately (to say the least), the gardens were left to decline. When Malmaison was sold most of the roses were dug out- if you could believe, and probably without permission (who would knowingly allow such a travesty!) Today, there isn’t much left of the once beautifully cared-for gardens of Malmaison. Thank goodness for documented history where Josephine’s contribution is well accredited to.

Here is the painting of a rose by redoute that was dedicated to Empress Josephine. It was developed specifically for her by her much trusted botanist, Dupont, who named it Rosa Gallica; The French Rose.

Some say that the colors of roses have a specific meaning…

Red: Love and respect
Deep Pink: Gratitude and appreciation
Light Pink: Admiration and sympathy
White: Reverence and humility
Yellow: Joy and gladness
Orange: Enthusiasm and desire
Red and Yellow blend: Cheerful
Pale Blended Tones: Sociability and friendship

What is your favorite rose color?

Stephen Scanniello- New York Times, 1996


elena maria vidal said...

I think it is fascinating how there are so many connections between Josephine and Marie-Antoinette. I remember reading how Josephine always respected the Queen's memory.

Unknown said...

Oh so fascinating. You should write for one of the tv channels! I love roses too, maybe I was Josephine once upon a time.
Happy Twirls

Lucy said...

Hi Elena:) I agree with you- comparisons can be made on so many aspects. Josephine really did respect Marie Antoinette. She even wrote about how she often felt her presence; particularly when she and Napoleon moved into the Queen's Quarters. Thanks:)

Lucy said...

Hi Libby Murphy- Thanks so much for the compliment:) Roses are my favourite too...there's a Josephine in every woman;)

Ingrid Mida said...

Imagine having your husband/lover steal flowers from vanquished lands on your behalf!
I have a special fondness for roses as my father grew beautiful roses in our garden. My favourite are white roses.

Lucy said...

That's so funny Ingrid...But soo Napoleon, don't you think? I could just picture him in that disciplinary mode ordering soldiers to pick flowers!!!LOL!

I love the deep pink and the pale blends too.

Viola said...

Josephine's rose is gorgeous! I like white roses the best, although yellow ones are lovely too. The character of Jemima Shore in Antonia Fraser's novels hated red roses and turned me off them somewhat!

Lucy said...

Red roses are not my favourites either, Viola- but white ones are so gracious I find:) Thanks!

May said...

I love all roses, but especially white and the pale blends. Thank you, a beautiful post as usual.

Lucy said...

Thanks Matterhorn- I always enjoy your comments:)

sallymandy said...

I didn't know any of this! So interesting. And tragic about the gardens...waah, what a shame. I wonder where all those roses ended up? It's very exciting to me to think of flowers being alive today that have such a signficant heritage.

I'm always a sucker for a pink rose.