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Motifs of the Revival: The Iris

by Patricia Poore on May 15, 2015

in Furniture & Interior Style

From the Aesthetic Movement Fenway series, ‘Iris Frieze’ in the Indigo colorway, adapted from English designer Walter Crane, Bradbury & Bradbury.

From the Aesthetic Movement Fenway series, ‘Iris Frieze’ in the Indigo colorway, adapted from English designer Walter Crane, Bradbury & Bradbury.

The genus of this easy-to-stylize flower has nearly 300 varieties that bloom in many colors—thus its name came from Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, who linked heaven and earth. In many cultures, the iris has symbolized luck, and also friendship and the promise of love.

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‘Springtime Iris’ features the flower resting on the shoulder of an elongated oval bowl, Ephraim Faience.

It’s often said that the flower’s three upright petals stand for faith, valor, and wisdom. In Christian symbolism, the blade-like leaves suggest the sorrows that pierced Mother Mary’s heart.

Art Nouveau ‘Wild Iris’ porcelain tile in Moss, Lewellen Studio.

Art Nouveau ‘Wild Iris’ porcelain tile in Moss, Lewellen Studio.

In Chinese, the word for iris means “purple butterfly,” and the flower is associated with the softness of early summer. Despite its name, the fleur-de-lys (“flower of the lily”) is clearly derived from an iris flower, and has been associated with the French monarchy and France since the Middle Ages.

‘Morris Iris’ hooked rug with stylized flowers, from a William Morris Hammersmith rug, Mill River Rugs.

Related to aquatic motifs such as the dragonfly and carp (koi), the iris was often used as a decorative design in the Aesthetic, Art Nouveau, and Arts & Crafts movements; the fascination with water motifs came from the influence of Japanese design on European decorative arts after the reopening of trade in 1854.

‘Iris’ fabric and wallpaper, an 1892 pattern by J.H. Dearle for Morris & Co., in the Fennel and Slate colorway, Sanderson.

‘Iris’ fabric and wallpaper, an 1892 pattern by J.H. Dearle for Morris & Co., in the Fennel and Slate colorway, Sanderson.

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