The Rose: An Illustrated History

by Peter Harkness
ISBN: 1552977870

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A Review of: The Rose, An Illustrated History
by Olga Stein

Not so much a book as a statement in decoration, The Rose is gorgeous from start to finish-from cover design to the hundreds of exquisite etchings, water colour, and oil paint illustrations within. You'll find the rose in its infinite variety, as it grows in a well-tended garden, on mountain or windswept island, in marshland or forest. According to Harkness, "the exact number of rose species is still unknown," but he gives us the following breakdown: "Forty-eight are native to China, and are found nowhere else; forty-two occur in the rest of Asia, including some of those also in China; thirty-two occur in Europe; six occur in the Middle East; seven occur in North Africa; twenty-six in North America, ten of these found nowhere else. That adds up to 161, but the total number of distinct species is less because several occur in more than one region." The Rose richly reproduces the work of this flower's most devoted and competent illustrators of the last 300 years. Every picture is accompanied by a caption which gives the Latin name of the particular flower, some relevant botanical insight, and describes who came to cultivate it or render it on paper or canvas. The book's three sections-"Roses of Nature: origins of the species", "Rose of History: a global evolution", "Roses by Design; Creative Cultivation"-do as they promise in terms of detail and purview. A sample of historical information at the beginning of of the section "Rose of History", reads:

"The oldest known rose fragments, apart from fossils, are prickles preserved in the flooded levels of Hera's Temple on the island of Samos in Greece. These date from around 500 BC. . . .Even more compelling are the vials of rosewater and rose oil that were placed among the personal adornments in the Sumerian royal tombs at Ur. . . Although the water and oil have long since evaporated, their existence is confirmed by writing on clay tablets found in the tombs. The Akkadian word silasar, which is inscribed on the 4000-year-old tablets, is very likely the first written reference to the rose."

If the rose is your flower, you'll take pleasure in both reading and looking through this book. Firefly promises a similar delight with its Fruit, An Illustrated History by Peter Blackburne-Maze.

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