Olive in European Life and Culture

Olive in European Life and Culture
Olive trees as well as olive groves and olives continued to appear in
various works of European art and literature even after the fall of the Roman Empire. Shakespeare made a number of references to olives and olive branches in his plays and sonnets.

The tree was mentioned in a poem dating from about 1099 A.D... Written by Hildebert de Laverdin, this was entitled “De ornatu mundi.” The work describes a garden based on mythological descriptions of the Garden of Eden.

The Moors, who were Islamic, ruled parts of Spain from the 700s into the 1400s A.D. Their capital was located in Granada. For them, a garden represented a paradise or Garden of Eden as it also did for Christians. The idea of the garden as paradise seems to have originated with the Persians. The concepts represented by the Moorish gardens in Spain continued to influence European art into the Middle Ages even after the departure of the Moors. These gardens featured olive trees.

An illustration from around 1510 A.D. from the Grimani Breviary depicts an olive tree growing outside a walled garden. Stylized gardens were depicted in a set of European miniatures, which were based on the Roman de la Rose, a famous medieval love story written as a poem. Illustrations for this work date from 1400-1500 A.D. although the poem itself is believed to be older. The miniatures show a walled garden, which symbolized the Garden of Eden, and featured olive trees.

The Villa Lante, which is located in Bagnaia, Italy, was designed by Vignola for Cardinal Gambara, who died in 1587. An inventory of the garden plants was done after his death. The estate featured an olive grove surrounded by a rose hedge.

Vincent van Gogh had much praise for the olive tree and its beauty. The tree was a favored subject in his art. At least 15 of his works featured these.

Olive fruits were depicted from the 16th to the 19th centuries in European still life works, particularly those of Italian and Flemish artists. One such work shows a bowl of olives in a still life by William Kalf (1619-1693), a Dutch painter. This painting features metal plates, fruits, and other elements. Art historians have interpreted the bitter olives as recalling the experiences of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Historical Culinary Use of Olive Oil in Europe

The role of olive oil in the diet of Europeans changed after the fall of Rome. For the most part it was most widely available in the Mediterranean region where it was grown. Elsewhere, this was mostly unaffordable for most people.

The use of olive oil was also influenced by other factors as well, particularly religion and geography. The Jews in Europe maintained the ancient tradition of using olive oil that was established during Biblical times. Until the rise of Protestantism, Europeans were encouraged to observe meatless days by the Roman Catholic Church.

For the most part, those countries where the influence of the Roman Catholic Church remained strong were more likely to use olive oil. This was true mostly in southern countries where the trees were cultivated. In the northern areas, people generally used whatever fat was produced locally. Olive oil was the preferred oil in Provence and in the northern areas of the country but less so in central and northern Italy.

Historically, the press cake after the olive oil was extracted from the fruits was an important food for European peasants in some areas. This was particularly true in Cephalonia, one of the Ionian Islands in western Greece.

Related Articles
Editor's Picks Articles
Top Ten Articles
Previous Features
Site Map

Content copyright © 2023 by Connie Krochmal. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Connie Krochmal. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Connie Krochmal for details.