Rose Tattoos

A rose tattoos by any other name is still a rose tattoo. (Okay, it’s not Shakespeare, but you get the point!)

From the ancient and classical world, to contemporary ceremonies, roses (and therefore most used in tattoo designs) have been and shall remain a symbol of love and beauty.

Greek mythology tells several variations, but the most frequent story holds that the rose was created by Chloris, the goddess of flowers. Chloris discovered the dead body of a lovely forest nymph and, in honor of the nymph’s beauty, turned her into the world’s first rose. The rose is also associated with Venus, or Aphrodite. In China, the rose is a symbol of youth.

Of course, not all associated with the rose is linked to beauty. A withered rose is a symbol of fleeting beauty, or of reproach and blame. 14th century England was torn apart by the War of the Roses between the House of York (whose badge was the white rose) and the House of Lancaster (whose badge was the red rose). The rose is also associated with secrecy, as when information is kept sub rosa (“under the rose”). So, depending on how it is used, a rose tattoo can have several unusual meanings.

black rose tattoo

The color of the rose can affect the meaning as well, though much of the interpretation here varies by culture. When you think about a rose tattoo design, consider the following:

• For most, the red rose is the ultimate symbol of love, and means “yes” regarding a return of affection. To others, the red rose is a sign of death, particular referring to the blood of Christian martyrs.

• The white rose is most associated with innocence, purity, virginity, and martyrdom. It is also of way of saying “no” to a romantic relationship.

• The yellow rose is often said to be a sign of friendship (compared to romance). You might give yellow roses to a friend with whom you are not romantically involved. Be careful, because many cultures view the yellow rose as a sign of jealousy, infidelity, or bad luck!

• The black rose, particularly in North America, is associated with death. This is probably because it is used that way in several popular culture TV shows and films. There is no clear history on the meaning of the black rose, though it most often is viewed as a symbol of sadness and struggle.

• Most unique of all, the gold rose has long been associated with the Vatican, as Pope’s give gold roses as a gift for a special benediction. The flower and thorn combination of the rose has led to multiple interpretations. To the ancient Zoroastrians, the rose was the symbol of innocence, whose thorns appeared when evil entered the world. Sufis held a similar belief; that the petals of the rose represent the pleasures of the world, while the thorns represent the pain. The roses in the Garden of Eden were said to be thornless, and early Christian art associated roses with the Virgin Mary, sometimes depicting her with thorn-free roses as a sign of her innocence, or roses with thorns as a symbol of her suffering.

Roses in tattoos are often paired with some other feature, e.g. a cross, drops of blood. This is a powerful way to symbolize that our lives contain both wondrous beauty and inevitable pain.

Rose Tattoos Trivia:Some people may choose a rose because it is mentioned several times in the Bible. However, scholars believe that the translation for the Hebrew “rose” most likely refers to the Narcissus Tazetta flower, a yellow plant with a central cup or crown.

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For more information on Rose Tattoos, see the resources listed on our Reference Page.

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