A gallery of pomegranate mosaics

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Pomegranate tree mosaic. Photo and mosaic: Frederic Lecut, Mosaic Blues.

I know why Hades chose a pomegranate to tempt Persephone. You’re stuck down there in the underworld, in those vaulted, sunless spaces and you’ve got to find something that she won’t be able to resist, something that conjures up all the light and energy that she’s pining for. It’s the perfect fruit. The blushing skin, those bright, too-red seeds, so small, so beguilingly small that surely it wouldn’t matter to just have one, or two. No one would notice. Why would they care?

Pomegranate. Hinton St. Mary. www.telegraph.co.uk
Christ and pomegranates, Hinton St. Mary, Dorset. www.telegraph.co.uk

Just as it’s not surprising that Hades chose a pomegranate to trick his victim, nor is it unexpected that religions and cultures from China and India to the Middle East, Iran and Turkey have commandeered the pomegranate as a receptacle for all sorts of symbolic meanings. The pomegranate is a casting agent’s dream – it’s rich, luxurious, sexual, and full and has been widely appropriated to signify propserity, marriage and fertility.

Peacock mosaic, mausoleo di Santa Costanza, Rome. From Ostia Antica
Peacock and pomegranates. Mausoleo Di Santa Costanza, Rome. Photo posted by Ostia Antica.

Except for the association with Hades (but, after all, Persephone escaped) and for the fact that pomegranate seeds are served as part of a traditional funeral dish in Greece, the odd thing is that their slightly sinister side has been neglected. It doesnt take too great a leap of the imagination to link pomegranates with carnality and death given their deceptively smooth skins hiding the crammed, boudoir upholstered chambers within not to mention the blood-coloured juice, but yet largely they seem to have positive connotations.

Horse and pomegranate.
Horse and Pomegranate. Villa Fortunatus, Zaragoza Museum, Spain.

It’s the season for pomegranates now in Greece. They hang down over the pavement from neighbourhood gardens so you can reach up on tiptoe and pluck them from the trees. The market stalls are full of them and walking in the hills, you come across wild ones, smaller than their cultivated cousins, each ball suspended as if held by an invisible thumb and first finger, carrying their weight inplausibly lightly.

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Pomegranates in the market, Athens, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

A pomegranate is a mosaic before it even starts to be depicted in other ways and pomegranate mosaics abound. I’d even go so far to say that, with the exception of grape vines, they are the most commonly represented fruit in ancient mosaics. I chose a pomegranate as my logo – partly, it must be said, for practical reasons, as it can be neatly and easily scaled down and still remains immediately recognisable, but partly too for it’s associations with Greek myth and for all the significance it carries.

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Pomegranate – Helen Miles Mosaics’ logo. Photo and mosaic: Helen Miles Mosaics

I also made a pomegranate and leaf border for my friend’s wedding mosaic:

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Birds, pomegranates and leaves. Photo and mosaic: Helen Miles Mosaics.

One of the most splendid examples of all the ancient pomegranate mosaics must surely be this pomegranate tree, groaning with fruit: from the Heraclea Lyncestis basilica mosaic in Macedonia:

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Pomegranate tree, Heraclea Lyncestis. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
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Pomegranate detail, Heraclea Lyncestis. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

It’s interesting how often pomegranates are depicted with animals. Here’s one from the Bardo Museum, Tunisia:

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Pomegranate and cow, Thysdrus, El Djem, Tunisia. Bardo Museum. Photo: Getty Images.

And this with a horse (again) from Umm El Rasas, Jordan:

pomegranate. jordanpetraprivatetour.com umm ar-rasas
Pomegranate and horse, Umm el Rasas, Jordan. Photo: www.jordanpetraprivatetour.com

Some mosaics show just the fruit. I am very fond of these two at Stobi in Macedonia:

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Two pomegranates, Stobi, Macedonia. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

And this little stripey one stuffed into a spare space on the Heraclea Lyncestis border:

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Pomegranate in border, Heraclea Lyncestis. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

Pomegranate decorations are still exchanged as symbols of good luck and promise for the New Year in this part of the world and I like to think of the unbroken connection with the ancients who must surely have chosen these designs for their floors for similar reasons:

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Pomegranates, lotuses and leaves, border design. Palazzo Massimo Museum, Rome. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.
Pomegranate in bowl. yadbeyadeng.wordpress
Pomegranates in a basket, Maon Synagogue, Israel. Photo: Wiki Commons

It is not that pomegranates (and grapes) have an exclusive prominence in ancient mosaics – plenty of other fruits are depicted too especially apples, pears and figs but pomegranates do turn up with notable frequency. This one from Tunisia contains a pomegranate and grapes:

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Hare and Grapes, Tunisia. J.Paul Getty Museum. Photo: Bruce M. White

And this pomegranate mosaic very intrigingly also features a pineapple as written about by www.eyesofrome.com:

Pomegranate rome.

Here’s one in black and white from the Animal Room at the Vatican Museum in Rome:

DSCN2869And a self effacing little motif next to a pair of sandals at a basilica in Cyprus:

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Pomegranates and sandals, Agia Trias Basilica, Cyprus. Photo: www.whatson-northcyprus.com

Of all the pomegranate mosaics I have seen, these from Israel with their delicate colouring and careful shading nestling in a dense background of foliage and flowers are particularly finely done:

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Pomegranate detail, Tel Dor, Israel. Photo: www.hadashot-esi.org

And there is also this fire-damaged pomegranate mosaic tree from Caesarea in Israel:

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Pomegranate tree mosaic damaged by fire. Posted by premasagar on Flickr.

And of course other contemporary mosaic artists have also used the pomegranate in their works. Frederic Lecut of Mosaic Blues reworked a 13th century Persian manuscript painting of a pomegranate for his gorgeous glass work at the top of this page and it’s equally possible to use the pomegranate as a simple splash of colour and interest as Irina Chanry of IC Mosaics does below:

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Irina Chanry pomegranate splashback. Photo and mosaic: Irina Chanry.

‘My’ pomegranate is also a modern reworking of an ancient theme, taking the tree and exchanging the horse/dog/leopard with two hares  (another symbol of rebirth and sensuality):

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Hares and pomegranates. Photo and mosaic: Helen Miles Mosaics

And since we’re on the pomegranate theme, here’s a life changing tip:

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A pomegranate bush, Athens, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

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4 Comments

  1. Alice Hunsberger

    A beginning mosaicist, I’m already a fan of both of your work, and a fan of pomegranate through the centuries, so it is wonderful to see you all together here. I come to the craft from an academic background in Persian poetry and culture and comparative religions. My goal is to put ancient feelings into stone.

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