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Pansies and their meaning

The Language of Flowers - Mandy Kirkby

Flowers have long related to deep symbolism, but it was during the Victorian era that the language of flowers really became integrated into society. Victorians loved to keep up appearances and flowers allowed them the perfect way to pass secret messages between one another in the most cordial way. Even the act of giving the flowers could derive meaning: in answer to a question, flowers given with the left hand meant ‘no’ and those with the right ‘yes’.

Some classic meanings were tulips for passion, honeysuckle for devotion and daisies for love. But here we are to discuss one flower in particular: the pansy.

The word pansy derives from the French word ‘penser’, which means to think or ponder. However, this popular flower has been known by many names, such as: peeping tom, Johnny jump up and love in idleness.

References to pansies have been dotted throughout history, notably a favourite flower of Shakespeare who mentioned the vibrant flowers in classic texts such as Hamlet, where Ophelia picks pansies and notes “and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts”- no doubt a reference to the French origin of the name. Pansies have also been said to hold powerful healing properties, used for treating inflamed lungs and ulcers, as well as in love potions.

Symbolic Death of Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais

Antique pansy pendant for sale by SHJB

However, in the language of flowers pansies were traditionally given to symbolise that the giver was thinking of you or have thoughts of you. Often used with platonic love as well as unrequited or secret affairs, the pansy would have sent a clear message to the receiver.

So powerful was the symbolism of the pansy that it was soon being commissioned into fine bespoke jewellery pieces, sometimes in the form of finely enamelled examples as below, other times as flowers with gem set petals spelling out secret acrostic messages and others simple silver designs.


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