Persephone's Fruit: A Suite of Five Miniature Paintings
The five miniature paintings on prepared paper before being cut apart for framing.
Perhaps these paintings were first conceived in a journal entry:
At about 3:30 this morning I woke up and could not get back to sleep. This was when the image of a pomegranate came to me. I envisioned myself as being like a pomegranate: the thin, hard, leathery outside skin of that fruit; the thick, white, bitter-tasting pith just below the skin; and below that, the honeycomb-like pattern of membrane, running throughout and encasing the clusters of ruby red, jewel-like seeds. One has to work hard to get through tough and complex layers to uncover those jewels inside the pomegranate.
I was inspired to look into the multi-cultural symbolism of pomegranates, which spans thousands of years of human imagination across the globe. From ancient Greece and Rome to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, in both secular and religious thought, pomegranates have symbolized fertility, abundance, posterity, fortunate blessings, maternal fruitfulness, divine perfection, sin, righteousness, life, death, renewal, resurrection, immortality, fecundity, and eroticism—a pair of pomegranates evoke breasts, the womblike shape of the fruit and the blood-like flow of juice are the female aspect; the seeds are the male aspect.
In contemporary psychology: “The seeds beneath the leathery exterior may represent the deeper layer of the psyche where memories and feelings are hidden within the protective layer of the personal unconscious.” and “This small globe carries the power to transform and renew our souls. The seeds of change lie beneath its blood red surface. We need only look within to find all the strength and life we need.”
Botanically speaking, I was fascinated to learn that pomegranates are indeterminate, meaning that all stages—from new flower buds to mature fruit—can grow together at the same time on one tree unlike, say, apples, where all the flowers bud and all the fruit matures at one steady pace throughout the growing season. When I imagined bud, flowers, immature fruit, and mature fruit all growing together simultaneously on a pomegranate tree I was inspired to show those different stages in a series of miniature paintings.
More inspiration came to me from the ancient Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone in which pomegranates play an important role. The myth explains the cycles of the seasons and the mystery of life and death: Young Persephone is innocently gathering flowers in a meadow when she is abducted to the Underworld by Hades to become his bride. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, anguished and angered over the loss of her daughter, makes the earth barren and vows that she will not let anything grow until her daughter is returned to her. Zeus ultimately intercedes and sends Hermes to bring Persephone back from the depths of the earth to her mother. But while she is still in the Underworld, Hades offers her the seeds of a pomegranate, Persephone eats them, and she is forever obligated to reside in the Underworld for part of the year—Winter, when the earth is barren. Persephone’s return to the land of the living from the Underworld thus symbolizes Spring and the rebirth of all life on earth.
The poignant story of Demeter’s grief over being separated from her daughter resonated with me at the time in my life when I was anticipating my own daughter (my only child) leaving home to begin her first year in college. When my daughter was a senior in high school I created this series of five miniature paintings to both symbolically represent the myth of Demeter and Persephone, and to express my feelings about motherhood and my sadness as I experienced the impending departure of, and separation from, my daughter.
1. Bolen, Jean Shinoda. Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women. New York: Harper and Rowe, 1985.
2. Hadley, Kathryn. A History of the Pomegranate As Symbol in Art and Literature. San Rafael, CA: Dominican College. A thesis for partial fulfillment for the Degree of Master of Arts in Humanities. Copyright 2003 by Kathryn Hadley