Rome IV – VI centuryAffresco of Herculaneum 79 d.C.
In the period preceding Christianity, the olive branch is mainly associated with Noah and the episode of the dove that returns to the ark carrying an olive branch behind it. In this case the plant is a symbol of peace in that it indicates to the patriarch the existence of a land that has emerged, hence the salvation for him and for the animal species. Therefore, the olive branch assumes its symbolism relating to peace, a peace that is reached after so much suffering and despair. Thus we find it depicted in many early Christian paintings of art such as the Roman one of San Marcellino and San Pietro.
“The Prayer in the Garden” (1499) – Sandro Botticelli
Olive trees recall that the scene of prayer takes place at the Mount of Olives. On the evening of the Last Supper Jesus brings James, John and Peter to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray not to fall into temptation. Gethsemane literally means “oil press”, a rustic farm at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The fact that the garden is an olive grove is not meaningless: the olive trees, according to Jewish tradition, are the “candlesticks of God” and it is no coincidence that Jesus awaits right there a sign of God on his destiny and that always there his arrest is due to the betrayal of Giuda Botticelli. Jesus moves away from the three apostles and after kneeling, he begins to pray and an angel appears to him from heaven to comfort him. In the foreground the disciples, instead of watching, fell asleep.
“The Olive Harvest” – Guerrazzi
Three 75 x 110 cm panels created as a mural frieze (painting, mosaic and precious stones) for the Palazzo Stoclet dining room in Brussels. The tree is the central motif, in which the silhouettes of Attesa, a dancer of Egyptian posture, and of the Embrace, a recurring motif in the artist, are set.
Gustav Klimt represents the tree with roots rooted in the earth and branches tending towards the sky; it contains within itself the various moments of existence – birth, development, decadence and death – which expresses and recapitulates, through the various seasons, in a cycle lasting one year; with its fruits it provides nourishment and perpetuates life. At the same time the tree can be seen as an immobile witness of human affairs.
Anfora Vulci – 500 b.C. Olive harvest