The symbolism of engraved passion flowers on Jacobite glassware

As someone with an interest in antique glass, you will in all probability have already encountered the recurring themes of symbolism,code and cipher which are prominent on the majority of examples of Jacobite glassware from the 18th century. The use of engraved images to convey messages of allegiance to the cause is well documented, but there is – of course – another coterie, the adherents to which exceed the inventiveness of even the most expansive thinkers amongst those who espoused Stuart restoration when it comes to cryptography – the Church.

Millennia of repression and persecution have forced the followers of many different facets of Christianity (and no doubt other religions too) to use rather more covert methods to proclaim their belief than they might have liked; time was that it would have been punishable by death to openly declare one’s faith to one particular denomination or another, so rather than risk meeting their maker somewhat earlier than might have been considered ideal,devotional exercitations were alluded to by way of hidden messages, allusion and word play. Where such existing and acknowledged motifs aligned with their own convictions, the Jacobites were not slow to appropriate them for their own use.

The divisions which rent Georgian society asunder were almost exclusively on religious grounds, and to avow fealty to the Jacobite cause and the Stuart kings was to invariably also cleave to the Catholic church, and espousing support for one would imply a tacit allegiance to the other. The Jacobites would, therefore, have no compunction in using Catholic symbols as a means to infer support for the restoration of their exiled monarch, and this is no better illustrated that on period glasses which bear – in addition to other more secular images – a passion flower, which was a long-standing symbol for Catholicism by way of allusion to specific parts of the Roman Catechism.

The Passion in this sense takes draws meaning from its late Latin stem, meaning to suffer or endure, rather than anything more amatory, and it is often used to denote the closing stages of the life of Christ, from the Portentious Grievance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Crucifixion, a period of one week in the Catholic liturgical calendar.

Specifically, the constituent parts of the flower are said to separately represent individual parts of the story of The Passion relating to the denouement of the Crucifixion itself:

The column of the flower’s ovary represents the vertical pillar of the cross.
The three styles represent the nails, with the stamens being the hammers.
The five anthers are the wounds of Christ and the leaves are the spears.
The tendrils are the whips used to flagellate Christ, and the corona his crown of thorns.
The five sepals and five petals signify ten disciples, excluding Judas and Peter who betrayed and denied Christ respectively.

The white and blue colouring are for purity and for heaven in to which Christ ascended surrounded by the glory or nimbus, as depicted by the calyx of the flower.
As has been stated, these representations were assigned to the passion flower long before the Jacobite cause was actuated, and as such it was a powerful symbol of the underlying religious nuance behind the cause, with the detail of the significative specifics giving it a second layer of hidden meanings that must have been been doubly appealing to those who commissioned pieces bearing its image.

Georgian passion-flower engraved wine glass

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