Green Man - A Symbol of a Symbiosis?

Foliate Heads or Green Men belong to a rich flora of decorative motifs found in ancient and medieval culture throughout Europe. The term Green Men is ambivalent by nature and evokes other types of beings.

A Green Man can be described as a hybrid of human and plant, and was one of many fantasy figures in the medieval pictorial world. This green symbolism appeals to us today. The Middle Ages, often referred to as the very Dark Ages, unfold between antiquity and the Renaissance and later Enlightenment. Our time is sometimes allegorised to a new Medieval, haunted by new plagues and migrations as a result of conflicts and climate change. We are approaching a new ideological and ecological darkness.

Photo Credit: Installation Cogito ergo Pisum at Double Solo show Hybrid with Jonas Theselius at Molekyl Gallery, Malmö, 2018 © 2018 Timo Menke

Green men can appear in different guises. Face and foliage, or other vegetation are always in connection. Leaves can shape the face itself, or leafy shoots grow out of mouth, nose and ears. In its two extremes either vegetation or human traits dominate. Discord rules concerning the significance and symbolism of the Green Man.

Medieval reliefs and sculptures of Green Men are not easily deciphered. They contain an abundance of symbolism, which places them at the utmost limit of comprehension – literally embodying the incomprehensible. All Green Men give rise to the same question: Who is this figure crowned by branches and leaves on facades, doors and windows? Is there a connection to Bacchus, the god of wine? Is it good or evil? Is it just insignificant decor? Is he rather she, or they? There are no unambiguous answers, the motive confounds the viewer.


Plant-humxn in the shape of Green Men loom as liminal beings without fixed identity, purpose or meaning, betwixt man and woman, evil and good. The symbiosis of symbols points inwards and outwards of itself.