What does this apple mean?
All of these images contain a common signifier, namely an apple. The meaning or idea that is represented by each apple, however, might be different. Below each image, I will list what I think is being signified and then reflect on this range of meanings.
- forbidden fruit
- fall of man
Polyptych of the Cathedral of Saint Emygdius, Pietà, Madonna and Child, eight saints, 1473, tempera on board, Crivelli, Carlo / Bridgeman Images
- relationship to fall of man – different context
- future saviour
Daphnis giving an Apple to Chloe, Zucchi, Antonio / Bridgeman Images
- romantic pursuit / persuasion
- cause of conflict
- allusion to fall of man
- green (unripe, innocence, envy, bitter)
- sweet, sugary
- association with healthy
- used for comparison, more “fattening” than product being sold
- evil, curse
Green Apples, 1921 (oil on canvas, Johnstone, Dorothy / Bridgman Images
- youth, innocence
- simple, basic, minimal
Newton and the apple (litho), Rainer, Paul (20th century) / Bridgeman Images
- innovation, new ideas, inspiration
There are definitely some common ideas shared between these images about what the apple symbolises. It is recurrently used as a symbol of temptation, knowledge, lust and sin. As I looked for examples of apples in art history, I learned that the words apple and evil are incredibly similar in Latin, a fact that might shed some light as to why the apple, specifically, is represented as the forbidden fruit.
Some other common themes, generally found in a more modern context, include health, freshness, and simplicity. The common phrase of ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ is an example of this. This association of apples with healthiness seems to be often exploited for commercial purposes.