Color of the flower
Has already passed away
While on trivial things
Vainly I have set my gaze,
In my journey through the world.
-Ono no Komachi
A Japanese waka poet once compared her decaying beauty to the cherry flower dropping to the ground.
Flowers are everywhere, and as such, they have appeared in art for thousands of years, both as flowers, and as symbols for other things.
In most Western art, flowers a reminder that life is temporary, and that moral considerations deserve our attention over material desires. They represent the circle of life, and are shown in various stages. These stages are the flowers budding, in full bloom, and fading, which is a parallel to the transient nature of human life and mortality.
While bouquets of flowers don’t tend to hold much symbolism, each individual type of flower carries with it its own symbol. Let’s take a look at a few examples: Roses are the flower of Venus. They are typically used as a symbol of love and sex. They can also hold a more morbid symbol of death, due to their thorns. Poppies produce Opium, and therefore are sometimes seen as a symbol of laziness, which was considered a mortal sin in Western cultures. Anemones in most western cultures symbolize the arrival of the spring breeze, or the loss of a loved one to death. This stems from Greek mythology. Many of these examples can be seen in Botticelli’s painting, The Allegory of Spring (1477-1482).
In the painting, Zephyrus (the blue faced young man on the right) chases Flora (a Sabine-derived goddess of flowers and of the season of spring) and fecundates her with a breath. Turning Flora into Spring. Venus stands in the middle in a beautiful gown. Spring holds flowers in her arms. Every step she takes more flowers appear. The anemones can be seen on the ground representing the arrival of spring.
The Birth of Venus, also by Sandro Botticelli, again portraits Zephyrus and flora blowing, what seems to be anemones at the naked Venus. the robe which the nymph is carrying also has floral patterns.
Tulips in western paintings typically symbolized wealth or prosperity Interestingly, each flower has different meanings, depending on the country or age we are examining. Looking again at the anemone, we find that in Victorian England, these flowers were used a symbol of forsaken love. In both China and Egypt, anemones were a symbol of illness, which is a direct contrast to its use for warding off diseases in European peasant settlements. Tulips, on the other hand, were seen as a symbol of the irresponsible and unreasonably treatment of man bestowed by God in the Netherlands, and generally, just as a flower, are given as a sign of true love.
Even today, flowers hold significant meanings. As a gift to the loved one, as a sign of gratitude, for a celebration, you just can’t go wrong with flowers. Maybe this post will help you seek the deeper meaning in paintings with flowers.
As Valentines Day is getting closer, maybe you can look up your partners’ favorite flowers and make a meaningful bouquet?
Pineapples blueberries pears oh my!
Fruits. Natures sugar packed with vitamins.
But what do they have to do with anything?
What does it have to do with paintings?
Well, I guess you’ll just have to read this post to figure it out.
Before I jump to the topic, I just want to say that there are many historians still debating about the meanings of the fruit as a Vanitas symbol. So read this as my personal opinion on this topic.
Fruits are a symbol of many different things throughout art history, depending on the quality and type of fruit, the artist, and also the region. Mature fruits are most the commonly seen, and generally symbolized fertility, abundance, and a figurative sense of health and well-being (an example of fruits as a symbol of fertility can be seen in
Caravaggio’s Boy with a Basket of Fruits in 1592).
But, did you know that certain fruits could hold deeper or more specific meanings?
For example, figs, plums, cherries, apples, or peaches were often used as erotic symbols. Tomatoes, apples and citrus were common symbols of death. The pear was thought to symbolize the fall of man.
Since there are many theories as to what the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden could have been (figs, grapes, apples). There is a famous depiction of the fig as the forbidden fruit in Michelangelo’s fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
Not only fresh fruits, but also rotten fruits were a common Vanitas symbol used to symbolize aging. An example of this can be seen in Caravaggio’s Bacchus (1595).
Fruits held different meanings depending on where they were used, and they were seen frequently outside of the Western art world.
The use of fruit in paintings dates back to ancient Egypt’s still-life paintings, which were found in tombs, as the Egyptians believed the representations would become tangible food in the afterlife.
Kudos to the ancient Egyptians! Hope they got their fruits in their afterlives. Fruits can also be seen in Chinese paintings, where they symbolized far different things than their Western counterparts. For example, Apples embodied peace, peaches symbolized longevity, and their tree had the power to expel demons. Bananas were a symbol of self-discipline. a example is a painting by Wu Changshuo “Peach Fruit Tree of Three Thousand Years” (1918).
Wu, being a slightly more modern painter compared to Caravaggio, approaches the painting with a rougher brush stroke painting the vivid peaches surrounded by the dark leafs and the stems.
The peach being the symbol of longevity, Wu placed his Hope in this painting in the time of chaos in his own country.
Many different fruits have many different meanings in many different locations. I personally found it interesting to see people seeking meanings in fruits. Seeing fruits as more then just something to eat. Fruits can mean hope, love, aging and many other things. maybe the next time you see a painting with fruits, you can step back and think what it means.