Although some may think of Valentine's Day as a "Hallmark™" holiday, it dates back over fifteen hundred years. A precise history of Valentine's Day is a bit hard to come by, but there appears to be general agreement that its origin can be attributed to a number of Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine. Entwined with this Christian history are elements of polytheism. Aphrodite (or Venus) the Greek Goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation, is strongly associated with fierce and covetous love. Her son Eros (or Cupid) is a central figure in contemporary Valentine's Day rituals, as is gifting someone with a dozen red roses.
The rose was sacred to Aphrodite. It is said that she was carrying a white rose to her dying lover, Adonis, when she stepped on a rose thorn. The thorn caused her to bleed upon the white petals, staining them red. The fullness of rose petals and sharpness of their thorns make them the ideal symbol of the often bittersweet nature of love.
The 1950s saw heavy use of floral patterns, especially in evening dresses. Less abstract than floral patterns of the 30s and 40s, the roses depicted on these dresses are highly articulated and set off by color contrast. The dress from the early twentieth century also uses a fabric with a detailed representation of a rose; however, the overlay of silver metallic thread creates a more understated effect.
Silk dress, 1958, Paul Whitney, Gift of Mrs. Harvey Werner
Silk dress, 1950-1959, Karen Stark, Gift of Mrs. Jules Hannaford
Silk dress, 1918-1920, Gift of Kingsley H. Murphy Jr.
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By Jean McElvain, PhD, Goldstein Museum of Design Assistant Curator