a.k.a. “The Soul of a Rose” (see larger)
by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

waterhouserose2.jpg

Wikipedia Entry
Essay: “Wicked with Roses”: Floral Femininity and the Erotics of Scent

I love Waterhouse for his images of women who are strong, independent, sensual, substantial, and graceful.

Posted before, here, with a poem.

Some quotes from the article, above:

“Perfume has of course a long association with the feminine—with sentiment, home-making and seduction, the privacy of the toilette and the intimacy of lovers—as well as with personal, womanly experiences of intuition, memory and the imagination. In that context, the conjunction of floral fragrance and the female form . . . seems to promote a traditional ideology of middle-class femininity in which women are associated with love-making and home-making . . . ”

The Soul of the Rose can be read as an aesthetic response to the erotic olfactory imagination. In this painting, an auburn-haired beauty is depicted leaning against a garden wall, drinking in the scent of a rose which she presses to her face. Her thick, elongated Pre-Raphaelite neck is extended, stretched out to reach the flower, and every muscle of her body is strained to the act of smelling. She tilts the flower towards her and her lips caress its petals with tender passion, suggesting a fusion of olfactory and gustatory pleasure. However, the conjunction of nose and petal provides the compositional focus, making the painting primarily about the act of smelling and the effect of odor upon body and mind. By collapsing the space between the petals and the sweeping profile of her long, aquiline nose, the direct passage of the inhaled scent into the female body is visually suggested. The figure’s eyes are closed, suggesting total concentration upon this one sensory impression, and her left hand clutches the wall, as if for support, as the heady perfume takes its intoxicating effect.

Waterhouse’s painting can be read as a rare and fascinating depiction of a woman in the throes of a passionate scented vision that is visually implied but not directly rendered. It reflects a contemporary fascination with the immediacy and emotional poignancy of smell for raising sentimental visions and visual memories of matters close to the heart, which was prevalent both in the literature of the period as well as in psychological research. In this context, one can suppose that the scent has aroused her imagination, raising before her closed eyes the near hallucinatory image of a lover. Indeed, her pose provides strong support for this reading, inviting the speculation that while clutching the garden wall, she imagines leaning upon him, her palm flat against his chest. Moreover, we might infer that the bloom, pressed so sensuously against her mouth, has, in her mind, taken on the form of her lover’s lips.”

“Scent was also seen to evoke the soul in other ways. Aromas or essences (from the Latin verb essere, to be) were often understood as signifying inner or inherent reality and floral fragrance was particularly associated with the soul while petals were a recurrent symbol of material as opposed to spiritual finery. Thus, scent in The Soul of the Rose can be seen to indicate both the soul of the flower and the true inner beauty of a woman, whose purity is perhaps symbolized by the flawless white pearls that she wears in her hair.”

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