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Cultivated Power: Flowers, Culture and Politics in the Reign of Louis IV

Cultivated Power: Flowers, Culture and Politics in the Reign of Louis IV
Elizabeth Hyde
University of Pennsylvania Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 330 p., $49.95

Often overlooked in importance during the early modern period in France, historian Elizabeth Hyde explores the evolving role of flowers — not from the customary scientific and economic perspectives — but from their social and cultural context. Used symbolically, flowers were a powerful political means of constructing the King’s image, and this is her major theme.

The author takes an interdisciplinary approach in this scholarly work, touching on the language of flowers during previous eras, the feminine connotations of flowers, and society’s view of nature, as expressed in art and literature, before she reviews how floral symbolism changed with the introduction of fashionable, expensive flowers. The florist trade greatly expanded during this period, but desirable species were limited. These rarities were restricted to serious plant collectors and connoisseurs — society’s elite. She tells of the use of floral motif in publications and art. More importantly to gardeners is the information on how the floral riches were used in the gardens of Louis XIV where they were symbols of the monarch’s power. She concludes with commentary on the changes that occurred in later years when flowers were cultivated for botanical purposes and were proper scientific pursuits for amateurs.

Hyde’s book contains a wealth of information on floral history and particularly how it related to French society and the French monarchy. The development of French flower cultivation is extensively reported in her work from medieval times down to the roses in the garden of Empress Josephine in 1805.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden