The luscious petals of the peony with its soft, luxurious folds only show themselves on certain occasions. Their feisty and elusive nature dates back to the T’ang dynasty in China, when, as the story goes, the Empress Wu demanded that all flowers bloom out of season. The peony solely refused, and was banished to the Luoyang province, the heart of peony culture and growth to this day. They deserve their reputation as flowers that symbolize wealth, good fortune, and femininity in Chinese culture. During the T’ang dynasty, their presence in the imperial gardens made them a sign of opulence as well as a precious commodity. From there, they traveled to Japan, where horticulturists developed a simpler, more delicate flower, and, many centuries later, they arrived in Europe.
Simon Pietersz’s peony in Flower Still-Life, is almost weighed down by layers of creamy brushstrokes, saturated with the elegance. Flemish flower still-lives reflected the desire of the flourishing mercantile class to flaunt their money, and the peonies were most likely associated with rare Chines porcelain vases depicting those flowers.
Peony photos by Katrina
Franco-Flemish painter Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer perhaps provides the perfect culmination to the history of the sumptuous peony. He decorated the lavish court of Louis XIV with paintings such as “Flowers,” filling the canvas with a suffocating sense of a perfumed bouquet, making the viewer almost wish for the pure and unpretentious beauty of the peony in Chinese art.
Peonies. Yun Shouping, (Chinese, 1633-1690), Qing dynast • Peony necklace
(10% of your purchase of this necklace will be donated to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society)