The Pomegranate in Florence
A few days ago, Katia, the co-founder of In Love With Florence gave me a pomegranate from her garden. An incredibly tasty fruit, rich in vitamin C and therefore appropriate for the winter season which invariably brings a few sniffles. However, it’s also appropriate for us as Florentine guides. In almost every tour given by In Love With Florence we have the possibility of seeing pomegranates portrayed by great painters in their masterpieces.
At the Accademia Gallery baby Jesus in the lap of Madonna of the Sea by Sandro Botticelli picks the seeds from a pomegranate he’s holding. The fruit is rich with symbolism. The red seeds recall blood, that of the sacrifice of Jesus, yet at the same time the fruit, bearing many seeds also represents fertility, in this case of Mary. According to some, scholars the fruit of original sin is not an apple but a pomegranate. In the Koran the pomegranate appears as a fruit in the garden of paradise and is cited among the good things created by God. According to Greek mythology a pomegranate sprang from the blood of Agdistis during his emasculation. Here again, referring to both blood and fertility but this time in a Greek sauce, decidedly too much pulp.
Returning to Christian iconography we also find our fruit in the Uffizi museum in two more Botticelli masterpieces, Madonna of the Pomegranate and Madonna of the Magnificat. You will also find the pomegranate in the Palatine Gallery of the Pitti Palace in the Tondo Bartolini di Filippo Lippi. These works although following religious themes were meant for private devotion and not to be displayed in churches and they all have a circular form. The form derives from the traditional plate given to new mothers full of restorative delicacies. This was eventually substituted with round paintings with nativity and fertility in the forefront.
Now let’s turn to a bit more modest of a location than Florentine museums, my home. I placed the pomegranate at the center of my fruit bowl in the center of my kitchen table. It has crossed my mind to eat it but the thought of the thick peel brings out my lazy side. Just like every good mother protecting her little ones, the pomegranate peel protects the seeds and it is for this reason that in all of the paintings, we have spoken about, also represent the Church that unites the faithful. As a symbol of an institution that unites and protects its members has been uses even by the Freemasons.
In the end I never ate that pomegranate and of course it eventually rot on that throne I prepared.
Its end was not much different than those represented in still life paintings like Adolescent Bacchus/Bacchus by Caravaggio in the Uffizi. There our beautiful fruit shares a basket with others that remind us of expiration and corruption before a young dreaming Bacchus. Maybe he’s not dreaming, he just had a glass too many.
Florario: miti leggende e simboli di fiori e piante – Alfredo Cattabiani
La Pittura Italiana alla Galleria degli Uffizi – Taschen
Il cibo e la tavola – Silvia Malaguzzi
The Protagonists of Italian Art; Botticelli – Bruno Santi