Matthew Wilson

Why are roses romantic?

How a female medieval poet rescued the flower’s reputation

Scandalously sensual: ‘Venus Verticordia’, 1864-8, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Credit: © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery / Supported by the National Art Collections Fund / Bridgeman Images

You may think that roses have always symbolised courteous romance, but art history describes their smuttier private life. Consider the pouting red blooms in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘Venus Verticordia’, which the art critic John Ruskin considered so obscene that he refused to continue his friendship with the painter. Ruskin admired the execution when he first saw ‘Venus Verticordia’ in Rossetti’s studio in 1865, but later reviled the crude suggestiveness.

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