Violet Flower Meaning and Symbolism (Viola)

Common violet flower meanings include innocence, everlasting love, modesty, spiritual wisdom, faithfulness, mysticism, and remembrance. In Greek Mythology, violets (Viola) were the creation of Artemis, who transformed one of his virginal nymphs into a delicate flower to protect her from the approaches of her twin brother Apollo. Join me as I explore the rich symbolism and cultural significance of violet flowers.

Purple violet flowers growing in a garden with the sun setting

Violet Flowers in Floriography

Floriography, often referred to as the “language of flowers,” has been used throughout history and across different cultures as a way to send messages. Each flower, and sometimes even specific colors of a flower, can represent a particular emotion, sentiment, or message.

To the Victorians, the violet flower has several meanings, depending on the context:

  1. Violet in General: Violets symbolize modesty, faith, affection, intuition, and spiritual wisdom. They are often associated with modest, humble sentiments of love.
  2. Blue Violet: Blue violets often mean devotion or “I’ll always be true.” They are indicative of trust and commitment.
  3. White Violet: White violets symbolize purity and innocence. They can also represent a promise or an invitation for a new beginning.

Violets in Christianity

In Christian writings, the violet flower is often seen as a symbolic emblem of humility. Because of its three leaves, medieval monks called violets “the herbs of Trinity” or “flowers of Trinity”. It is also said that violets symbolize the Virgin Mary’s humility and purity. These blossomed when the angel Gabriel told Mary that Jesus would be her baby.

In the world of religious art, the violet flower is often portrayed as a symbol of modesty and humility. For instance, in many paintings of the Renaissance era, the Virgin Mary is often seen holding baby Jesus and wearing purple flowers, symbolic of her modesty.

In addition, the works of Leonardo da Vinci (“Madonna and child with flowers”) and Giovanni Paolo (“Madonna of humility”) feature the violet flower prominently.

Violets in Greek Mythology

Violet flowers have deep roots in Greek Mythology. As the story goes, violets were the creation of Artemis, who transformed one of his virginal nymphs into a delicate flower to protect her from the approaches of her twin brother Apollo. This is why violet flowers became a symbol of modesty and restraint.

The earliest cultivation of violets supposedly traces back to 500 B.C. Ancient Greeks used violets in wine, food, and medicine. The plant was seen as the symbol of fertility and love, and as such, was used in love potions and to ward off headaches and dizzy spells. This tradition was so popular that it also became the symbol of Athens.

Violet Flowers in Ancient Greece and Rome

Violets had many uses throughout history. Greeks and Romans were said to use violets as funeral decorations. While Persians used them as a calming agent against anger and headaches. In Ancient Rome, they made wine from violet flowers, which they believed could prevent drunkenness.

Shakespeare’s Favorite Flowers

Violet flowers frequently appear in William Shakespeare’s works, symbolizing love, fidelity, death, and modesty. Examples of Violets in Shakespeare’s Works include:

  1. “Twelfth Night”: In this comedy, the character of Viola assumes the name “Cesario” and uses violets as part of her disguise, symbolizing her modesty, youth, and the complex nature of her hidden identity and unspoken love.
  2. “Hamlet”: Ophelia, in her descent into madness, hands out flowers as symbols of her deep sorrow and grief. She mentions violets, which in her speech are associated with faithfulness and the death of her father, Polonius, saying, “I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.”
  3. Sonnet 99: Shakespeare speaks directly to the violet, accusing it of stealing the sweet breath of his beloved, using the flower to symbolize the delicate and precious nature of love and beauty.

In Shakespeare’s time, violets were emblematic of loyalty, chastity, and humility, virtues often given to characters associated with the flower.

Their frequent appearance in grave and death scenes also aligns with the Elizabethan use of violets in funerary rites, symbolizing remembrance and mourning.

State Flower of Rhode Island

The violet is the state flower of Rhode Island, Illinois, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. In the United Kingdom, the dog violet is the county flower of Lincolnshire. The purple violet is the provincial flower of New Brunswick.

February’s Official Birth Flower

Violets are the official February birth flower, making them a perfect gift for the birthday of a loved one. The violet is frequently linked to the amethyst, the February birthstone that symbolizes deep love, royalty, and happiness.

Violets in Greece

In Greece, violets are associated with the month of March, which marks the start of spring and the anniversary of the country’s 1821 revolution against Ottoman rule. Here, violets are used to honor both the natural cycle of renewal and the memory of those who fought for national independence.

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s Signature Flower

The violet was Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s signature flower. He used it to cover his wife’s grave when she died in 1814. In addition, some of Bonaparte’s supporters were known to use violet flowers to assess if subjects were loyal to the emperor by asking them if they liked the flowers.

The Official Flower for the Taurus Star Sign

In astrology, the violet flower is associated with the sign of Taurus. The flower is influenced and protected by the planet Venus.

Wrap Up

This dainty yet hardy popular plant has been passed down for centuries. Violets are so adaptable and versatile that they are an easy choice to enhance any garden, whether it be a bed or a pot. They require little care other than basic watering, feeding, and deadheading. And with their early blooms, they always seem to herald the arrival of another beautiful spring season.

Editorial Director | andrew@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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