When you think of cherries, you probably think of their bright colours, sweet and rich tastes, and the fact that they are often used in popular desserts. But cherries have been important in art and literature for a very long time, especially when it comes to what they mean.
Cherries can mean different things depending on the work in which they appear. A lot of that difference comes from the time when the work was made. Want to know more about what the word “cherry” means? Below, we’ll talk about what cherries have meant in art and literature.
How Cherries Came to Be
The rich soil between the Caspian and Black Seas in Asia is where the sweet cherries we know and love today got their start. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus, who lived from 371 to 287 BCE, wrote about cherries in a book called History of Plants. This book was written between 371 and 287 BCE. How cherries got from Asia Minor to Europe is still a bit of a mystery, but most people think that birds carried them.
In the 1600s, early colonists brought cherries to America by ship. Since then, cherries have become popular all over the world. Roman conquerors, Chinese aristocrats, immigrants from working-class families, and both amateur and professional chefs have all grown to love cherries.
What Cherries Mean and What They Stand for
Have you ever thought, “What do cherries represent?” If so, you might be surprised to learn that the answer is very different depending on when you look at history. For instance, in mediaeval art and literature, cherries were seen as holy. In “The Cherry-Tree Carol,” a Christmas ballad that has been sung since the 1500s, Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem for the census while Mary is pregnant. Along the way, they stop to rest in a cherry orchard. Mary asks Joseph to pick some cherries for her to eat so that she and the baby can get the nutrients they need.
Joseph tells her in a mean way that the father of the child should pick the cherries, not him. Jesus, who is still in Mary’s womb, talks to the cherry tree and tells it to lower a branch so Mary can pick from it. When the branch does fall, Joseph feels bad about what he said.
Wakefield Master’s The Shepherd’s Play, which was written in the 1500s, is another example of cherries being used as a religious symbol. When poor shepherds come to see Mary and the baby Jesus in the stable, they can only afford to bring cheap gifts. The first shepherd gives a bunch of cherries to Mary and Jesus. In this way, a cherry is a simple, but good, replacement for treasure.
Also, the mediaeval romance Sir Cleges is about a poor knight who prays under a tree for himself and his family to become rich. When he looks up, he sees that the tree is full of cherries. This means that good things are on the way. He and his son give the cherries to the king, who is so grateful that he gives them money and other things.
Over time, cherries became more associated with sex and less with love. Writers thought of cherries as ripe, full, and about to burst, which were all good metaphors for the erotic, especially when it came to virginity and the male anatomy. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, Thisbe says, “My cherry lips have often kissed thy stones.” Some experts think the “stones” in this sentence mean the man’s testicles.
Josuah Sylvester and Robert Herrick, two English lyric poets from the 1600s, compare cherries to nipples and breasts. Also during this time, the English poet Charles Cotton compares a young woman’s pubic hair to black cherries, and the writer John Garfield calls sex “playing at the Bobb-Cherry.” In their erotic book The School of Venus (1655), French authors Michel Millot and Jean L’Ange compare the end of a man’s appendage to a cherry.
As time went on, the sexual meaning of cherries became clearer. The first modern use of the cherry as a symbol for the hymen was in 1889, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Jonathon Green, a linguist, says that the idea of a virgin “losing” their hymen, or “cherry,” has been around since the early 1900s, when it became common slang.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson, and songs like “Cherry Pie” by Warrant, “Cherry Red” by ZZ Top, “Cherry Cherry” by Neil Diamond, “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways, and “Blow” by Beyoncé are all modern works that use cherries as a symbol.
Cherries have a spiritual meaning.
Most of the spiritual meaning of cherries in Christian texts has to do with the miraculous and the divine. The fruit often grows or appears in strange places, which shows how wondrous and glorious God is. The spiritual meaning is that with God, anything is possible, like how a cherry tree bends so its fruit can be picked.
Also, cherries have been linked in Japanese culture to the spiritual ideas of life, death, and rebirth. This gives them extra meaning when they are given as a gift. In honour of what the Kamikaze pilots did during World War II, the Japanese gave them cherry blossoms. Japan has also shown its appreciation for its friendship with the U.S. by sending cherry trees as a sign of unity and friendship.
What the cherry means in art
Cherries show up in a lot of different kinds of art, like paintings and embroidery. Usually, they stand for good luck, wealth from heaven, and the fruit of paradise. In some paintings, they are the most important part of the whole thing. In other paintings, they hang quietly from a person’s hand or, as in a famous painting of Elizabeth I, from their ears.
Some famous paintings, like The Cherry Gatherers by Francois Boucher, Girl Under the Cherry Blossoms by Émile Vernon, Madonna with Cherries by Tiziano Vecelli, Cherries by Virginia Granberry, and The Boy with Cherries by Edouard Manet, show cherries in different ways.
In art and literature, cherries can mean anything from something high and beautiful to something sexual and holy. To figure out what cherries mean, you have to look at the work in which they were used and the time when they were written. But it’s clear that cherries have a lot of meaning no matter what they’re used for.