Olive Art

A nourishing collection of art, quotes, poetry and literary gems in reference to oil and the olive recall the central role played by the cultivation of this precious extract that has been a principal part of the life of man through the ages, in the classical and Christian tradition.

anfora-vulci 150

Anfora Vulci – 500 a.C. Raccolta delle olive/ Olive Harvest

pressa-per-olio 150   Affresco di Ercolano 79 d.C. – Oil press

After the flood, the dove brings an olive branch to Noah, a sign that the waters have receded. Probably as a result of this episode in Christian culture, the olive tree has become a symbol of peace between God and mankind.

noe 150

IV-VI secolo – Noah and the dove (Rome)

la-pace 150  "Pax" (1337) - A.Lorenzetti

PAX (peace) is represented by an olive encircling garland for the head.


A nourishing collection of poetry in reference to oil and the olive fill the pages of writers and poets. First among the many poets and writers who have been inspired by the olive tree and it's fruit is the father of The Italian language, Dante, who wrote to Beatrice :

"(...).Thus in the bosom of a cloud of flowers Which from those hands angelical ascended, And downward fell again inside and out, Over her snow-white veil with olive cinct Appeared a lady under a green mantle, Vested in colour of the living flame"

Dante, Divine Comedy, II, XXX, 28-33

The comparison with the olive and the presence of the olive is a recurring theme and key element in many verses dedicated to love: a dedication where the known attributes of this noble plant and its precious extract become the means with which to speak of the virtue and love of a woman. This is also illustrated in the verses written by Torquato Tasso, who, in extravagant and romantic prose wrote of his muse, "Life of my life, you are to me as pale as the olive(...)", from the rime d'amore, 248.

And further, it is the branches of the olive that crown the heads of the noblemen and the powerful; as illustrated here by Niccolò Macchiavelli, who, in Florentine Ornaments, XIV, wrote " (...) and for his march, an olive wreath was placed upon his head, to demonstrate all that he possessed, his health and the freedom upon which his homeland depended."

 PAINTINGS (XV century)

miniature-del-XV-se 150    miniature-del-Xv-sec-2 150  Olive Harvest

In the Annunciation by Simone Martini, centrally placed between Gabriel and the Virgin there is a goldenurn holding four flowering branches of white lilies, which symbolize the purity andvirginity of Mary. The delicate rendering of the flowers springing from the contrasting metallic hardness exemplifies Martini's versatility and skill.

annunciazione-MARTINI 150 "The Annunciation" (1333) – Simone Martini

 

l'orazione-dell'orto 150
"L'Orazione nell'orto" (1499) – Sandro Botticelli


The garden at Gethsemane, a place whose name literally means "oil press," is located on a slope of the Mount of Olives just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. A garden of ancient olive trees stands there to this day. Jesus frequently went to Gethsemane with His disciples to pray.As the evening began, after Jesus and His disciples had celebrated the Passover, they came to the garden. At some point, Jesus took three of them—Peter, James and John— to a place separated from the rest. Here Jesus asked them to watch with Him and pray so they would not fall into temptation but they fell asleep.

nativita 150     nativita2 150  "Nativity" (1501) - Sandro Botticelli

This depiction of the Nativity is certainly unconventional, and does not simply represent the traditional events of the birth of Jesus. The angels dance in the sky and they carry olive branches, which two of them have presented to the men they embrace in the foreground.
In "Happy Union" by Paolo Veronese the wife is about to be crowned with a myrtle wreath, symbol of fidelity and undying love. Myrtle has been used in Marriage ceremonies since antiquity. The husband and the wife hold an olive branch, symbol of peace and harmony. Also the dog is a symbol of fidelity.

 

unione-felice 150
"Happy Union" (1570) – Paolo Veronese

Triumph of Venice by Batoni celebrates the rebirth of the fine arts in the Venetian Republic during the rule of Doge (Governor) Lionardo Loredan (1501-21). A female figure representing Venice is enthroned upon a triumphal car pulled by two winged lions, attributes of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. To her left, Doge Loredan gestures toward harvest offerings (olive branch) from the goddess Ceres, who reclines in the lower right corner.

 

trionfo-di-venezia 150

"The Triumph of Venice" (1737) P. Girolamo Batoni

For centuries the olive branch has been associated with peace but at the beginning of the nineteenth century the Mediterranean landscape is represented in all their details, as a constant presence.

tra-gli-ulivi 150  "Tra gli ulivi a Settignano" (1885) – T. Signorini

Vincenzo Guerazzi represents the effort and the hard work of the olive harvest. In his paintings the soil is light yellow-green, the trunks are well defined. The leaves are real color spots. The pickers are represented while they are bent towards the ground, thus emphasizing the hard work.

la-raccolta-delle-olive 150  "La Raccolta delle olive" - Guerrazzi

In the painting "olive pickers," Guerazzi represents a dark and gloomy atmosphere, with several trees in sad autumn colors , in relation with old olive women. Each woman is dressed in black; the soil is poor and meager. The artist wants to express the hard work of the women consumed from care and tiredness.

raccoglitrici-di-ulivi 150  "Raccoglitrici di ulivi" - Guerrazzi

Danza-tra-gli-ulivi 150  "Danza tra gli ulivi" - Guerrazzi

And finally, the olive, in all its luxuriant identity is represented as a natural element of the landscape, and emblem of a wise and authentic beauty, not only by poets and writers, but also by the artists who sought to capture the fascinating and profound essence of this plant.

olivi-sotto-il-sole 300  "Olivi sotto il sole" (1889) - Van Gogh

 And so, it was not by chance that Renoir, the fine portraitist of light in all it's hues, said " (...) look at this light through the olives: it sparkles like a diamond!" and an even stronger affirmation by Van Gogh who recounted (...) I am working hard to capture this olive tree. It is silvery, then a moment later it is more azure, and altogether it is green with a hint of bronze against yellow, pink, blue purple, and a tawny ochre."