24 August 2010

little bits of Coral


full fathom five thy father lies:
of his bones are coral made:
those pearls that were his eyes
Nothing of him that doth fade
But does suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
                     -Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 1,sc ii

I asked Barbara of It's About Time to help me with a subject that intrigues me-
Distinctive in portraits.
Distracting in vibrancy.
Heaving symbolism.

 Coral Fishers, J.Zucchi c.1560

Artists from Western religious backgrounds, mostly Christian, sometimes used coral in their paintings to protect against illness or evil.

flemish school 1625

 "apotropein" Greek- to turn away threatening forces

In Western cultures, coral had religious significance before Christianity. The ancient Greeks connected coral with Perseus cutting off Medusa's head, when the gushing blood changed into coral upon contact with the sea. For this reason, they saw coral is a symbol of rebirth.

 Persues & Andromeda, Giorgio Vasari,1570, a Renaissance painter's Origin of Coral.


Later, some came to believe that the red of the coral could represent the blood of Jesus Christ & could be construed as protection against his future passion & resurrection. (Of course, without his passion & resurrection, there would be no Christian religion.)



 detail of Mantegna, Madonna della Vittoria

 in Mantegna's painting Coral is symbolic of Christ's blood sacrifice-suspended above the coral branch foreshadows the crucifixion absolving Man's sin.


In the Mediterranean area, many believed that a gift of coral for a newborn helped protect the baby.  Many Mediaeval and Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child show the infant Jesus holding a branch of coral or his Mother’s coral rosary.

Madonna de Senigallia, 1470's ,Piero della Francesca


 a branch of coral adorns the wall of Carolina Irving's home- no doubt protection against the evil eye.


 snippets of coral at home-warding off the evil eye.

1st image A Cabinet with Objects of Art, Johann Georg Hainz
It's about time here
a through exploration of this and other jewels, I recommend Brilliant Effects, by Marcia Pointon.



  1. I have never noticed coral in religious renderings. Very interesting. I'm going to make an evil eye necklace with coral and wear it the next time I go to Italy. Also, I am wondering if kelly green and white are the 'new' it colors. W had a gorgeous room in those colors in the new issue.

  2. Donna-it might be wise-Now I guess I am going to have to subscribe to W, surely will not find a copy in "hooterville" I here it is a good one this month(sept i guess?) pgt

  3. Did not know the symbolism in coral...I have to say this was a real treasure trove of art. Loved the Piero della Francesca. What a stunning post.

  4. What's your new header picture? It's almost like a Scottish colourist school, but I can't discern the name. I'm guessing from that 20s-30s era though.

    I do like coral, and in painted form it is perhaps less destructive than the real deal.

  5. Gaye, you have to subscribe as it is my fav (also Town & Country). The art/artist articles are outstanding, very avant garde for most publications. You have to see the Louise Bourgeois article and the Alessandro Mendini article. Also, Eadweard Muybridge's 19th century photography. The Balenciaga dresses are incredible as well as many other pieces from different designers. It reviews fall's 14 heftiest tomes and the kelly green and white room I mentioned is a picture from a show "Embarrassment of Riches" at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts opening in September. I could go on and on but then you'd kill me. If you can't find a copy, go to your library and read it (it took me two days). Or, I will send you my copy, minus 3 pages I tore out, but will copy them and send them too. The issue is that good. I can't wait each month for my W to come. There isn't another one like it.

  6. Love coral and these little teasers are fabulous. Love the new header

  7. Philip, just the tip of this subject- much of the Buddhist colors are tied to reds(coral's most prized color). I have always found it to be mysterious-and tying it in with portraits and the wearing of. pgt

  8. Columnist, David-the artist is Edmund Tarbell, American, Impressionists. Much is sentimental, portrait, women in tasks. This with the Japonisme influences felt autumnal and like home. I have a pale grey blue kimono that puts me in mind of this one-It is called Cutting Origami, As I love the influences coming from Japan and paper-It seemed perfect

    Barbara spotted it first-she is always posting images that I have long forgotten or need to see once again.

  9. Donna, I use to get this-for years forever back in the 90's and forward. Their home features were always wonderful. I know it is undergoing some great changes with new editor Stefano Tonchi. You've convinced me and thank you. pgt

  10. Wonderful Persues & Andromeda by Giorgio Vasari almost makes you feel sorry for Persues. Great post. Honored to help.

  11. Intriguing post. I'll forward this to my daughter who inherited a string of coral from her Grandmother who got it from her mother when she was a young girl.

    I don't understand the first line of the Shakespeare quote. ?

    All very thought-provoking!

  12. Yes, there is something so extraordinary about coral... our return to the sea. Love the antique red coral specimens, but also feel mixed about our continuing to harvest it at all for decorative purposes. This is one of those situations where I think that the faux-ones modeled after the fine red coral branches are far superior to the less beautiful ones one now sees on the market. A friend of mine owns a collection of red coral that was owned by Mae West.... delicate as it comes.

  13. janfaw,the very red coral cross on the mannequin is an old Victorian piece of my own-it is one of my fav crosses, as I have somewhat of a collection of them wearable and not.

  14. author- I would love to see that collection and wouldn't it be great to find some Mae West photos of her with or wearing(?). I understand where you are coming from, I think there is a huge amount of the faux stuff out(the 2 white ones in the photos are so). Any of the old- large brain coral and 2 specimens in the cabinet are so lovely and faded-my personal preference is the antique

  15. I adore the ribbons of coral hanging in Carolina Irvings home against the yellow wall - stunning.
    Many thanks for the remarkable art you always post. I learn so much from you!

  16. An absolutely gorgeous, thorough post. Beautiful.

    Miss W x

  17. Thank you so much for introducting me to It's About Time, I love how you have included one of her images with the LV post and now with these wonderful paintings with bits of coral in them :)



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