Archive for May 9th, 2017

Who wore it better?

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017


Nearly four years ago, we planted some columbine seeds, thanks to Nora Munro over at The Belfry.  The occasion was memorable, for the Book Haven hardly ever goes outdoors into the sunshine, let alone in the dirt. We commemorated the occasion with a blogpost, “Digging History,” on July 6, 2013:



“I met Nora through one of my favorite medievalists, Jeff Sypeck, over at Quid Plura.  His link to “où dort la mélancolie” enchanted and intrigued me. Nora is trying to grow as many authentically medieval plants as she can – but the mid-Atlantic weather isn’t helping.  “I still love the flowery fields in mediaeval paintings, and it pleases more than is probably reasonable that this columbine is exactly the same as the ones in Hugo van der Goes‘ Portinari altarpiece of 1476,” she wrote.  Yes, it’s that Portinari family.  The altarpiece was commissioned by Tommaso Portinari, an agent for the Medici bank in Bruges, and he’s somehow related to Dante‘s beloved Beatrice.



“Can you see the flowers in the altarpiece above?  I thought you wouldn’t.  Try looking at the photograph from Nora’s garden right.  Then compare with the enlargement from the Portinari altarpiece at left.  Pretty cool.  So I was thrilled when the envelope arrived from Annapolis a few hours ago with … my own seeds.

The Enclopedia Britannica has yet another version: “The scattered violets indicate Christ’s humility; the columbine flowers represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit with which Christ was endowed at birth. The flowers in the albarello (pottery jar) are in royal colours, for Christ was of the royal line of the Israelite King David.”

“But the big queston is: will they grow?  I’ll let you know how it goes…”

Now the Book Haven is faithfully reporting back to you. They grew. The distinctive columbine leaves have been evident for years. But until this spring – no flowers.

Then… surprise! But perhaps the bigger surprise was that they appear more purple than the navy-blue ones in the painting – or in Nora’s garden.



Could it be from the sunshine, bleaching my delicate flowers to a rich purple hue? (As well as bleaching the leaves to a much paler green?) The Book Haven hopes that our readers can answer this mystery.

Meanwhile, here’s a bit of columbine trivia I culled from the world wide web: Obviously, the name “columbine” comes from the Latin word columba, which means dove. But why, why, why are these little blossoms associated with doves? The answer: when the blossom is flipped over, some imaginative people see a ring of doves drinking in a fountain. That’s why they have often been used in art to represent the dove of peace, the Holy Spirit, or anything else that involves a dove.

Why, then, the formal botanical name “Aquilegia,” which is Latin for eagle? Again the imaginative, perhaps drug-addled, note that the spurs of the blossom resemble an eagle’s talons. The eagle is also cited as a reference to the wing-like petals or the closed bud of the flowers which looks like an eagle’s head.

Same flower. Different bird. Go figure.