Article Overview

Over the past seven years I’ve spent my days (and more than a few nights) thinking about the use (and abuse) of flowers in Pre-Raphaelite art, and more specifically, in the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82).  

Having considered various options for publication, I have chosen to share my research online in short articles so that the greatest number of people will have swift, easy and free access to my work.

I hope that this website will stimulate further debate and that it may even inspire future researchers to join me in grappling with this contrary topic.

The ‘Flower-Seller’ in Ford Madox Brown’s Work (1852-65)

22 October 2021

In his epic theatrical creation, Work, Ford Madox Brown drives the natural world to the fringes of his largely sanitised view of a gut-wrenching Hampstead street in the mid-nineteenth century.  Our eyes flit around the canvas, assessing the sweat-soaked spectacle on a scorching summer’s day.  We catch a glimpse of the convolvulus and ivy creeping along the brick wall on the left constricting the throbbing mass of muscle; on the right, we alight on the elm trees casting their shadow over the famished and the exhausted; and once more to the left, we are drawn to the basket of wild things as it hurtles out of the frame, hurriedly transported away in the arms of the shoeless street trader.  What does it all mean?

Find out in my paper published in the Pre-Raphaelite Society Autumn issue on Ford Madox Brown (which coincides with the bicentenary of Brown’s birth in 1821).  Details here

The Phantom of a Flower

20 August 2021

An excellent and thought-provoking talk”  PRS Review

My first hour-long talk for the Pre-Raphaelite Society explores the phantom of a flower in one of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s most controversial, oil paintings – Beata Beatrix.

The PRS is the international society for the study of the lives and art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Founded in 1988, the Pre-Raphaelite Society publishes writings relating to the PRB and their successors, holds meetings and lectures, and organises visits to places of interest, including exhibitions of national and international interest.

The talk, along with many other interesting PRB lectures, is available here.

Woman as Fruit of the Flower

10 June 2021

The spent flower, in its absence, provides a remarkably powerful motif for sexual initiation, transgression, and transformation. Here I share a few thoughts on Rossetti’s use of the pomegranate as a sign for the female sex.

Woman as Flower

12 May 2021

On this, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s birthday, I offer some thoughts on how to approach Pre-Raphaelite flowers as synonyms for the female condition by sharing new perspectives on the flowers in The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1848-49).

A Tale of Two Trees: Sycamore or Willow? part 2

31 March 2021

The concluding part of an article examining the cover of the catalogue for the forthcoming exhibition at Oxford’s Ashmolean.

A Tale of Two Trees: Sycamore or Willow?

25 March 2021

Expert opinion is divided over the tree in the drawing chosen to promote The Pre-Raphaelites: Drawings and Watercolours exhibition. This two-part article examines the evidence and concludes by discussing why a positive identification matters. A massive thank you to Professor Christiana Payne for engaging with me while researching this article.

Case Study: Ford Madox Brown’s Work

25 February 2021


Gathering evidence to illustrate how Specimen and Symbol – two parts of the five-stage Flower Characterisation process – contribute to the creation of a botanically accurate and historically sound interpretation.

Taming the Symbolic Urge

24 February 2021

This article introduces the second step of a five-part process in considering the character of the Pre-Raphaelite flower. In doing so, it raises questions as to the art historical value of undocumented symbolic associations.

The Devil is in the Detail

8 February 2021 Julie Whyman

If we cannot decode flowers using the Victorian language of flowers, can we distil a consistent methodology that is both botanically accurate and historically sound? I share the first stage of a suggested five-part process.

The Victorian Language of Flowers Nipped in the Bud

January 2021 by Julie Whyman

The Victorian language of flowers was never designed to interpret the meaning of flowers in works of art during this or any other period. This article gives five primary reasons for excluding it from art historical interpretation.

Context is Everything

January 2021 by Julie Whyman

How and why does it matter that the Victorian language of flowers is leading us down the garden path? Let’s take a closer look at Edward Burne-Jones’s Portrait of Georgiana to see how “meaning” can be so easily skewed when favouring this slippery language.

Will the Real Walter Pater Please Stand Up?

January 2021 by Julie Whyman

Although it is accepted that Rossetti said almost nothing about the meanings hidden in his flowers, this is often overlooked in deference to the critique of the eminent Victorian art critic Walter Pater. This article discovers that Pater never said what he is purported to have said, and casts doubt, therefore, on its relevance.

Flowers With No Meaning

January 2021 by Julie Whyman

When floral meaning is so much part of our cultural make-up, is it possible or even desirable to suspend our desire for meaning and start with a clean sheet?


Julie Whyman and Islay

I am passionate about Pre-Raphaelitism.

I have a PhD from the University of York with my thesis Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Language of Flowers (2019). I gained a Distinction in a Master of Studies in Arts and Literature from the University of Oxford with my dissertation Exposing the Lily: Decoding Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Sacrane Paradox (2015). I also have two BA Honours degrees – one in Humanities from the Open University, and the other in German from the University of Liverpool.  I was awarded the John Pickard essay prize from the Pre-Raphaelite Society Review for my essay Four Flowers and a Funeral (2017), and published Sacred Profanity: Decoding the Lily in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘The Blessed Damozel‘ in Vides (2015); the University of Oxford’s annual volume of interdisciplinary essays.


I acknowledge with gratitude the support of my PhD supervisor, Professor Liz Prettejohn; my examiners, Professors Amanda Lillie and John Holmes; Professor Mary Roberts for the opportunity to attend classes at the University of Sydney; Emeritus Professor John B. Bullen, my MSt Supervisor; Dr Lynn Robson, Dean of Regent’s Park College for her guidance and friendship; Kellogg Fellow Dr Sandie Byrne and Associate Professor Dr Tara Stubbs for their faith and encouragement; Professors Tim Barringer and Griselda Pollock, and Drs Sarah Phelps Smith and Debra Mancoff for their inspiration.

I would also like to thank Professor Emerita Christiana Payne for engaging with me during my research of A Tale of Two Trees: Sycamore or Willow?

Thank you to the 7,476 people from 79 countries who have visited the site 14,704 times since its launch on 29 January 2021.