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Behind the Design episode 2: The Madonna

Welcome to the second episode of our Behind the Design series. In this blogpost we put the design of our Madonna tee in a symbolic and historic perspective to explain the meaning of it. Enjoy!

Thanks to Claude Monet, lilies may just be the most documented flower in art history. During his career, the French painter became so obsessed with the waterlilies in his backyard pond, that he produced a series of over 250 paintings! The point of this exercise, amongst other reasons, was to show the passing of the seasons and its effects on his backyard. His most famous waterlily paintings are permanently displayed at Musée de l'Orangerie in France, also known as the “Sistine Chapel of Impressionism”.

Waterlilies by Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Flowers have always played an important role in painting, simply because they are colourful, vibrant and beautiful to look at. What then, makes the lily more interesting to paint than say, a tulip? Well, one interesting feature of the lily is that their symbolic meaning is dependent on their colour. White lilies, for instance, are often associated with purity, devotion, innocence and fragility. All of these symbolic meanings are extraordinarily captured in “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” by John Singer-Sargent.

Carnation, Lily, Lily and Rose  (1885) by  John Singer-Sargent

In fact, white lilies are so oftentimes associated with innocence that they are referred to as the Madonna lily. Even though this painting (1899) by William Adolphe-Bouguereau obviously refers to the Virgin Mary , the context in which a white lily is painted is crucial to the question of innocence, as it can also refer to Mary Magdalene, who is named a sinner in the Bible. This uncertainty of meaning actually spills over into its practical relevance. Because the Madonna lily reminds us of innocence and purity, they are popular at both weddings ánd funerals. Either way, white lilies make for a great T-shirt design!


"La vierge au lys" (the virgin of the lilies), William-Adolphe Bouguereau  (1899)

The pink lily, on the other hand, has quite a different meaning. Perhaps because of their colour, pink lilies symbolize love and admiration. No wonder these flowers are ordinarily presented to sweethearts as an ultimate display of affection. So, be careful the next time you buy lilies, because you might just send the wrong message. By the way, did you notice that the flowers on both the Madonna and the Black Swan T-shirt are actually lilies?

“Pink Spotted Lilles”, Georgia O’Keeffe, (1936)

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