Fruits and Vegetables as Sexual Metaphor in Late Renaissance Rome
By John Varriano
Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 5:4 (2005)
Introduction: As Renaissance culture grew more secular in the wake of the Reformation, painters and poets expanded their thematic repertoires to include subjects drawn from the natural world and from daily life. In the visual arts, landscape and still life slowly emerged from narrative representation despite the low status held by such subjects in the aesthetic hierarchy. With history painting remaining so dominant, artists drawn to genre frequently “justified” their efforts by overlaying them with historical and allegorical allusions. Thus, in the realm of still-life painting, some pictures were made in imitation of ancient xenia, others incorporated relevant moral and social commentary, and still others fashioned clever visual puns from ordinary foodstuffs. One sixteenth-century artist, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, went so far as to make a career of creating human “portraits” out of common produce, while a handful of painters made pointed references to the sexually suggestive shapes of certain fruits and vegetables. Highlighting the erotic associations of figs, peaches, melons, and squash was particularly common in the era that began with Raphael (1483–1520) and ended with Caravaggio (1571–1610).