Knowledge Beyond St. Patrick’s Day Traditions

New York City during St. Patrick’s Day weekend is quite the experience. The subways are a sea of green t-shirts, beads, and shamrock headbands. The green mobs crowd the streets roughly around noon. And I have officially seen a man dressed as a leprechaun dance on a bar stool at 3 pm. In honor of the wonders (?) of St. Patrick’s Day, I compiled a brief list of works of art from a range of eras, locales, and mediums that (somehow) tie back to the March 17th tradition.

A Green Man at Rochester Cathedral.
A Green Man at Rochester Cathedral.

The Medieval Era Green Man
The green of this man is more about foliage than Irish history, but these men are an iconic presence in medieval architecture. This recurring motif is widely accepted as the face of nature. These faces feature a visage covered or created by leaves or other greenery, often with foliage spewing from the man’s mouth. Each green man comes with a different expression – sometimes peaceful, sometimes frightening. Though the figure’s origins are accepted as pagan, its association with the annual cycle of nature led its recasting as a symbol of rebirth to medieval Christians [1].

Dollar Sign 2 by Andy Warhol.
Dollar Sign 2 by Andy Warhol.

Dollar Sign series by Andy Warhol
Cash, the other iconic green associated with St. Patrick’s Day. With every holiday, comes a hearty dose of commercialism. And Andy Warhol was a star at exploiting commercialism, both for artistic growth and monetary gain. His Dollar Sign series was an ode to the iconic symbol that hugely influenced his life and art. Warhol once stated, “I like money on the wall. Say you were going to buy a $200,000 painting. I think you should take that money, tie it up, and hang it on the wall. Then when someone visited you the first thing they would see is the money on the wall.” Like displaying literal money, the owning and displaying of a Dollar Sign work is its own status symbol [2].

© Succession H. Matisse/BilledKunst Copydan 2012. Henri Matisse, Portrait of Madame Matisse. The Green Line, 1905.
Henri Matisse, Portrait of Madame Matisse. The Green Line, 1905.

Portrait of Madame Matisse (The Green Line) by Henri Matisse
A piece that is green in both title and image, Matisse’s use of color has an important place in the history of art. Matisse was a leader of Fauvism, a group of artists known for their unconventional use of color and uninhabited brushstrokes. Upon the movement’s first showing of their bright paintings, the critics scorned their work. A critic labelled the painters as “fauves” (French for wild beasts), giving the group their namesake [3].

Interior image of the Yesil Mosque.
Interior image of the Yesil Mosque.

Yeşil Mosque or the Green Mosque
Once again, I focus on the color green, this time because of its significance for both the Irish holiday and the Islamic religion. The color green makes frequent appearances in Islamic flags, bindings of the Qur’an, and the decoration of mosques (such as this mosque). Supposedly, green was Mohammed’s favorite color. The Qur’an even promises a paradise with “green garments of silk.” Like the green man, the color is seen as a symbol of nature and life. The Yesil Mosque is known for its tiled blue-green interiors, which were also once featured on the mosque’s exteriors [4].

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost
While Irish legend states that a pot of gold can be found at the end of the rainbow, Robert Frost’s spring-inspired poem reminds us of the ephemerality of rainbows and other nature. Opening with the line “Nature’s first green is gold,” the poem begins with creation. The annual aging of nature is felt as “leaf subsides to leaf” and is brought to its end as “Eden sank to grief.” The stages of the cycle are fleeting just as life itself. The golden spring blossoms are evanescent as is the wealth associated with gold.

Enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day! And, if there is a lull in conversation over tonight’s drinks, feel free to bring up your new found cultural art knowledge that is (somewhat) related to St. Patrick’s Day. Your friends should be very impressed.

Article by Taylor Zartman, NYAP participant and blogger.

1. Stevenson, Roy. “The Mysterious Green Man in Medieval History.” Roy Stevenson.
2. Guy Hepner Contemporary Art Gallery. “Andy Warhol: Dollar Signs.” Guy Hepner Diary.
3. MoMA. “Fauvism.” MoMA Learning.
4. Beam, Christopher. “Islamic Greenwashing: Why Is the Color Green so Important in the Muslim World?” Slate. Last modified June 9, 2009.


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