A captivating image of ideal beauty, this allegorical figure is a prime example of nineteenth-century American figure carving. Found on Staten Island, she was probably used as a garden or architectural figure, though her present condition suggests that she was protected from the elements for most of her existence. The delicate handling of her face, her flowing hair adorned with roses, her pose, and the treatment of her drapery in a late neoclassical style indicate that she was made by a master carver who was familiar with current trends in the fine arts.
The figure was created by either an American shipcarver or, more likely, a European-trained carver who immigrated to the United States around midcentury. A number of German figure carvers came to the United States after the Revolution of 1848. Many of them had trained with master sculptors who were proficient in both wood and stone. In these workshops, apprentices studied ancient and modern sculpture and learned principles of drawing and composition as well as carving techniques.
The figure holds a cornucopia and a wreath and is adorned with many roses. She may represent Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, who was usually portrayed with a cornucopia of blossoms that she scattered over the earth. The ancient image of Flora became quite popular in the early nineteenth century due to the revival of interest in flower symbolism, otherwise known as the "language of flowers." Starting in Napoleonic France, a seemingly endless number of gift books, dictionaries, and emblem books gained a huge audience on both sides of the atlantic. Books like Charlotte de Latour's La Langage des fleurs (1819) and Elizabeth Wirt's Flora's Dictionary (1829) became international best-sellers, inspiring all sorts of related visual imagery, from prints to ceramic figures. In the United States, language of flowers books reached a high point of popularity in the 1840s and 1850s, though they maintained their appeal until the end of the century.
Ralph Sessions, "Allegorical Figure: Flora," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 549.