Carnations can actually lay claim to a rather illustrious past. They were first mentioned in Greek literature some 2,000 years ago and the reviews were good. In fact, the name dianthus, coined by Greek botanist Theophrastus, is derived from the Greek words dios (divine) and anthos (flower).Share
Carnations showed up regularly in works of art and literature in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries; the frilly boutonniere-favorite was considered important enough to warrant a mention by Shakespeare ("Love's Labour's Lost") and a depiction by da Vinci ("Madonna With the Carnation," 1475, currently hanging in a German museum). And according to John Hand, curator of northern Renaissance painting at the National Gallery, carnations were often used in the 15th and 16th centuries. "The woman holds a carnation—most often red—as a symbol of engagement," he said, citing the painting of Margaretha Boghe, painted by Joos van Cleve in the 16th century.
Carnations also featured largely in prized textiles loomed by 17th-century Ottoman Turks (they favored tulips as well) and in Turkish Iznik pottery, which flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries. Then the flowers seemed to have largely disappeared from view, not just artistically but socially, too.
But lately there is a renewed flowering in the flower: the carnation has found fans among the famous and fashionable, including Oscar de la Renta, Martha Stewart and Sarah Jessica Parker (who was photographed wearing a red carnation last year) and Carolina Irving, the former Vogue style editor turned textile designer who loves "everything to do with carnations." Ms. Irving confesses to wearing carnation-scented perfume from Frederic Malle and even uses carnation-scented soap (Santa Maria Novella), too.