Heritage of Timișoara


The Sunflower Motif. Or About the Rebirth of Hope

A thick, cracked and aging coat of cement hides the plaster motif of the Sunflower. The sun of freedom can melt the grey coating, however, revealing long-forgotten color - while European culture is awaiting a new spring, the Sunflower, a symbol of hope and resistance, is ready to follow the light once again. This spring does not come about if we await it passively, but we can create it through active involvement, support and empathy.

Our thoughts reach out to Ukraine while we write this tribute article to briefly tell the tale of the sunflower in Timisoara’s architecture.

Timișoara’s facades feature numerous phytomorphic ornaments, with the motif of the flower being one of the most widespread. Despite being present in architectural ornament since antiquity, the motif of the flower acquires a central presence in the artistic movement of the 1900s, with a key role in Secession aesthetics. This is the time when this motif is at the peak of its use and artistic transformation, making Timișoara a city of stone flowers.

The pediment of Hartlauer János house, architect Martin Gemeinhardt, 1904. The Sunflower motif hidden under cement render that is about to peel off.
Photo: Raul Bondrilă

The sunflower – history and symbolism

Despite being a New World plant that only reached Europe in the 1500s, the sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is strongly interspersed in European stories and culture, retrospectively influencing even the myths of ancient Greece and replacing local flora in versions of the Apollo myths, becoming a symbol of the nymph Clytie. The flower’s relationship with human culture and art started in its American homeland, where it was worshipped by the Aztecs, being then adopted by the great families and royals of Europe, the Medici giving it particular importance in their famous mosaics.

By the end of the 19th century the Sunflower motif acquires new significance in the art world, both through the English Arts and Craft movement and because of the great Aesthetes of the time, such as Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde, who make it the main symbol of their doctrine.

The decorative sunflower motif as part of the gate of Emil Szilárd house, architect László Székely, 1905.
Photo: Raul Bondrilă

The holistic art of the 1900s adopts and turns this motif widespread, using it under various forms and shapes. The Sunflower motif organically coincided with local culture in central and Eastern Europe, where the motif was already widespread in folk culture, being a daily part of life. This motif was also chosen for its aesthetic traits, having a simple composition that could easily be abstracted geometrically, the 1900s art movement approaching its representation differently however, using the entire plant for elaborate compositions that feature roots and stems.

Integral representation of the motif in the ironwork of the gate to house nr. 63 on Odobescu Street.
Photo: Raul Bondrilă

A solar symbol, the Sunflower is associated by folk culture with adoration and unrequited love, while Romanian mythology raises the Sunflower to the rank of judge for the rest of the girl-flowers. Other myths associate it with summer, fulfilment and happiness and with hope for the future.

Elaborate artistic composition that features a bundle of sunflowers alongside two solar symbols. The representation of the entire plant stands out, featuring its flower, leaves, stems and roots.
Photo: Raul Bondrilă

The sunflower in Timișoara

The Sunflower motif as key decorative motif of Ferencz Mallinger house, 1905. Here it is found as part of the decorative frieze, in the window pediment as well as in elaborate compositions alongside solar motifs. We can also find it in a more complex form in composite depictions with anthropomorphic ornaments of feminine faces with sunflowers in their hair.
Ferencz Mallinger house, unidentified architect, 1915

Photo: Raul Bondrilă
The Sunflower girl, composite phito-anthropomorphic decorative element.
Ferencz Mallinger house, unidentified architect, 1915

Photo: Raul Bondrilă
Dynamic Sunflower composition with stems that turn into the curved line of the Art Nouveau aesthetic.
Architect Martin Gemeinhardt, 1913

Photo: Flavius Neamciuc
The Sunflower is a symbol of summer and nature unrestrained, as well. The facade of Franz Anheuer palace in Fabric features the motif as part of an elaborate composition alongside the female angel figure and a golden harp in vegetal decor. The Sunflower has a privileged position here, being situated centrally on the figure’s chest as a reference to the soul of nature.
Franz Anheuer Palace, architect Ede Reiter, sculptor Alois Heine, 1901

Photo: Flavius Neamciuc
Decorative panel with the Sunflower motif situated above the corner oriel window of the Anchor palace. Beneath the window we also find the motif of the sun.
Anchor Palace, architect Martin Gemeinhardt, 1902

Photo: Flavius Neamciuc
The Sunflower decorates the pediments of the two sister buildings designed by architect Martin Gemeinhardt in Plevnei square. The floral motif represented frontally with symmetrical leaves joins here many other phytomorphic and zoomorphic ornaments that define nature as the main artistic theme of the two buildings.
Romulus Nikolin and Hartlauer János houses, architect Martin Gemeinhardt, 1904

Photo: Raul Bondrilă
A geometrically stylized representation of the motif on the balusters of the balcony. The motif is abstracted geometrically here, with the flower being made out of two concentric circles, while the stem is a row of vertical circles. The leaves are the sole organic influence that balance the composition.
Mercur Palace, architect Arthur Tunner, a building strongly influenced by the style of architect Lipót Baumhorn.

Photo: Flavius Neamciuc
The motif as part of the wrought iron gate of Szilárd Emil house, architect László Székely, 1905.
Photo: Raul Bondrilă
We also find the motif in the ironwork of the base windows in the same house.
Photo: Raul Bondrilă
The Sunflower motif in a gate’s ironwork.
Photo: Raul Bondrilă

Community - the Sunflower in the region

We end this article with the image of a yellow Sunflower field alongside a clear blue sky. This is how we envision the story of European heritage in these days, as a delicate sea of hopeful flowers and colors that are at the same time so vulnerable, always under the possibility of falling prey to a sudden winter. Their power comes from the community, however, and this is why we want to show you various other representations of the Sunflower in Europe along with other initiatives that promote European regional heritage.

Lviv, Ukraine
Source: Forgotten Galicia
Wrocław, Poland
Source: Muzeum Secesji
Budapest, Hungary
Source: Buildings Tell Tales
Oradea, Romania
Source: Oradea Heritage
Bucharest, Romania
Source: Detaliul NeoRomânesc / Editura Intaglio
Craiova, Romania
Source: Monumentalist

These are only few ornaments that illustrate the motif of the Sunflower. Do you know other such ornaments or initiatives that promote the heritage of both Timișoara and Europe?

Thanks to Raul Bondrilă (RoadOne) for today's documentary walk through Timișoara, in search of Sunflower.

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