What does an apple mean?
Apples appear in many religious traditions often as the forbidden fruit even though an apple specifically isn’t mentioned in the Book of Genesis. The apple has become a symbol of knowledge, immortality, temptation and sin. For example in Adam and Eve by Durer (1507).
There are other instances in the Bible where apples are used in a more positive way, for example, the phrase “the apple of your eye” is used in numerous places which implies an object of great value. In Solomon, the apple is used in a more sensual context and symbol of beauty.
Later in Christianity, it became the symbol of redemption from sin such as in Francisco de Zurbaran’s A Virgem da Maca (1660)
It is also often associated with Venus who is shown holding it as in Rossetti’s Venu Verticordia (1868).
The Trojan war was triggered by an apple – the apple of discord. The apple then became a symbol of evil and chaos through The Judgement of Paris.
Apple as an image of evil remained an interesting concept to many painters. For example, this surrealist painting by Ramaz Razmadze.
In Celtic mythology, the apple represents eternal wisdom and the apple tree is thought to be what the silver branch is made from. The silver branch represents the passage to the Otherworld and Bran’s journey to gain the wisdom to enter.
In Norse myths, apples were the source of immortality and perpetual youth, they were closely guarded by the goddess Iðunn.
Apples continue to be a symbol of youth and vitality. Many painters use them to represent health.
More contemporary artists continue to use the apple motif. Rene Magritte’s Son of Man appears to return to the orginal sin and temptation representation.
Perhaps one of the most famous apples now. The apple computing logo also refers back to older meanings with Steve Jobs designing it to represent taking a bite out of knowledge.
Apples continue to be a sign of knowledge and learning. “An apple for the teacher” has turned into mass production of apple-shaped gifts for teachers.
Apples seem to have a paradoxical meaning when you look at them across cultures and times. There is a sense of mystery and history associated with them but also a conflict of meaning. Sometimes, good and sometimes bad. A “double-faced” symbol.
There are certainly common themes: forbidden fruit, sin, temptation, youthfulness, health, knowledge.
I am very aware though that my examples may cover a broad time period but they are quite narrow in terms of geography. I am left wondering what apples may mean in different cultures?
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