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Symbolism in art: the pomegranate

Widely depicted in art, the fruit with many seeds has multiple symbolic meanings.

It represents energy, abundance, fertility, vital energy, unity and cohesion.

Celebrated in ancient Egypt and in Greek mythology, it has symbolic meanings for Christianity, Judaism and Islam alike. 

In China it is a symbol of love and marriage. 

The pomegranate fruit has been painted in the hands of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child, both as a symbol of the blood and sacrifice of Christ, and of his resurrection.

Here is a detail of one of the most famous representation of the fruit, the Madonna of the Pomegranate by Sandro Botticelli (Uffizi gallery) 

In mythology the seeds of the fruit bind the goddess Persephone to the

Dante Gabriel Rossetti Proserpine 1874

underworld; taken by Hades to his kingdom under the ground, she is allowed to go back onto the Earth to her mother Demetra one third of the year, but she is forced to eat pomegranate seeds, so that  she is compelled to go back to the Underworld the rest of the year as Hades' wife (Dante Gabriel Rossetti represented the myth in Proserpine, 1874, Tate Britain).

It's the power of the pomegranate, sacred to Aphrodite as symbol of fertility, but also a symbol of eternal life, of the dualism of life and death.


Painted in innumerable still life paintings (here, Jacob van Hulsdonck's Still life with apples, oranges and a pomegranate, circa 1620-1640), the pomegranate is an incredibly beautiful and peculiar fruit: the translucency of its seeds and its glorious red make it an irresistible subject of still life.

And still life paintings are usually full of symbolism related to the human condition. 


Salvador Dali

Quite memorable is the surrealist take of the pomegranate in Salvador Dali's 1944 painting Dream caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate a second before awakening (Thyssen Bornemisza museum, Madrid), a series of visions exploding from an open pomegranate, a Freudian depiction of a dreamscape.


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