It is a warm, hot, humid day as a band of seafarers set foot upon the island of Guadeloupe. Amidst the parrot – flecked jungle foliage, their eyes fixate upon the thick stem of an outlandish, prickly looking plant with spiny sword shaped leaves. The year is 1493 and one of the seafarers was none other than, the trailblazer, Christopher Columbus and the intriguing plant is…the pineapple.
The Renaissance Europe to which Columbus returned, was a society mainly bereft of common sweet flavours. Fresh fruit was extremely scarce, with so few examples surviving the volatile Atlantic crossing; the pineapple would go on to become, the King of all fruits for both rarity and value.
Artist, Johann Chrisroph Volckramer c.1708-14
The pineapple soon became an item of celebrity and curiosity. It’s striking visual attractiveness made it the crowning fruit for important feasts, the ultimate symbol of wealth and status. It was not uncommon to rent the newly discovered fruit for special occasions. A pineapple travelling from one hostess to another, each client trying to outdo the other, with the more affluent amongst them able to indulge and finally eat it. In the 18th Century a pineapple cost the equivalent of £5,000 today.
In 1675 Charles II, is presented with the first pineapple grown in England.
Photo – Otter/Wikicommons
A visual keystone to social events, the much honoured pineapple came to express a sense of welcome, good cheer and human warmth. As a communal symbol of friendship, the Christian church adopted the emblem. The pineapple also went on to become a favourite motif of architect, Sir Christopher Wren and other artisans and craftsman throughout the colonies.
Ham House, Despoke.com
Entrance gates to Mansions were increasingly adorned with ornamental, wood, metal or mortar carved pineapples, and announced the hospitality of the household. Incorporated into large metal weather vanes to embellish the most important public buildings, sculpted pineapples became door furniture, were stencilled onto walls, into woven fabrics and were executed as motifs into the finest bone china, the list goes on. . . . .
A fabulous example: Pineapple wallpaper
Stunning set: White porcelain candlesticks
Though today this exotic fruit no longer holds ‘Court’ on the dining table, the pineapple has in many ways come full circle. In the last decade we have seen a renaissance in its mainstay, used by interior designers, as a household item of curiosity, intrigue, colonialism, travel and more importantly, fun. From gold table lamps to crystal decanters, the pineapple still stands out, as an eye catching emblem against the smooth angular interiors of modern living.
We often think of fruit collectively – a bunch of grapes, bananas or a bowl of apples. Yet the pineapple can stand alone without the need of a companion, it’s complex nature, historic past and sheer sweet taste will always have singular appeal.