Hanging on a wall in the upper floor of Huntington Gallery, Charles Voysey’s design, Snake Amongst Flowers, depicts a handsome silk-embroidered snake moving through a luxurious field of embroidered flowers. But these are not just any flowers. Voysey surrounds his snake with lavish interpretations of opium poppies – flowers that can be enjoyed each March in the Herb Garden. Of course, hardly any more striking symbolism could be imagined…..
Snakes have long been a symbol of danger and fear, of paradise lost. Opium (extracted from latex of Papaver somniferum, parallels that symbolism in the plant kingdom, associated with opium dens, Opium wars, and the addictive, destructive narcosis of morphine and its derivatives, such as heroin and other opioids. (check out the PTTL: 1512, 1729, 1765, 1804, 1817, 1832, 1838, 1839, 1840, 1842, 1906, 1942, 1997)
Visitors to the Huntington mausoleum can glimpse a quiet reminder of symbolic associations of opium poppy with slumber, along the west side of the Huntington sarcophagus, where the sculpted marble angel delivers the ripe pods.
Searching the Arlington National Cemetery website for “In Flanders Field”, gives thoughts from a WWI battlefield by John McCrae in a poem that established the poppy (the European corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas), as the symbol for those lost in the war – http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/flanders.htm – Then consider why Dorothy fell asleep in a field of poppies in The Wizard of Oz….