Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Roman pineapples?

Posted on by royvickery |

Earlier posts on the website have noted the use of pineapples (Ananas comosus) as symbols of welcome, hence the use of ornamental stone pineapples to decorate gateposts and other entrances to properties.  However, it has also been asked if these decorative ‘pineapples’ do, in fact represent the fruit.  They usually have bluntly rounded leaves (or bracts), instead of pineapple’s sharply pointed leaves, and they lack the characteristic ‘crown’ of leaves.

Ham House, ‘one of the grandest Stuart houses in England’, in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and owned by the National Trust, displays a painting of ‘John Rose the Royal Gardener presenting a Pineapple to King Charles II’.  This is a 1783 copy by Thomas Stewart of an original painted  in 1675 by Henrick Danckerts (c.1625-80).

It is not known when pineapples were first cultivated in England, but it is thought that the first Europeans to encounter them were people on Christopher Columbus’s voyage in 1493.  However, according to information provided in the room where the painting is hung:                                                    ‘As pineapples weren’t grown on England until 1714, this painting is probably symbolic rather than historic.  Pineapples were Roman symbols of welcome, so this painting may represent Charles II being welcomed back in England [in 1660] after his exile.’

One assumes that ‘Roman’ refers to the ancient Roman Empire, rather than seventeenth-century inhabitants of Rome.  If this is so, it is unlikely to be correct, as pineapples are believed to have originated in Paraguay and Brazil, and, as noted above, were unknown to Europeans until the fifteenth century.

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