The world-famous altarpiece of Saint Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’, which was painted by the Van Eyck brothers in 1432, includes at least forty kinds of flowers and plants.
Each painted with more detail and precision than the last.
And of course every single flower has a symbolic meaning.
Take a look, for instance, at the crown worn by the young virgin Maria on one of the upper panels, seated on God the Father’s right hand. Between the precious stones, pearls and diamonds we can see all sorts of flower bouquets, all referring to the month of May – also known as ‘Maria month’ in the Catholic church.
And every flower has its own meaning: the red rose stands for love, the white lily for purity, and the blue columbine for humility.
If you look even more closely, you’ll see that above every rose there is a sprig of white lily-of-the-valley. Yes, I belonged there too – probably as a bringer of good fortune.
I also turn up in other parts of this beautiful polyptych: at the very bottom of the central panel and at the feet of the group of holy women.
It’s not clear why I was put there. Sometimes I symbolise purity and humility, and sometimes the tears that Maria wept at Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning.
With me you never really know.