Gallery 271, second floor
The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a shrub or small tree known for its almost round, calyx-crowned red fruit filled with hundreds of seeds separated by cells of fleshy membrane. Originating in Persia (present-day Iran) several thousand years ago, this fruit is today cultivated in warm climates throughout the world, prized for its sweet-sour flavor and medicinal properties. Historically, the pomegranate tree's bark has been a source for tannin used in curing leather and its rind and flowers used as a textile dye. In addition to its practical uses, the pomegranate has been revered for centuries as a symbol of health, fertility, and resurrection. Ancient Egyptians, for example, were buried with pomegranates in hopes of a second life. In Greek mythology, the fruit is associated with Persephone, who is both queen of the underworld and goddess of spring's bounty. Judaism esteems the pomegranate as a symbol of righteousness and fruitfulness; according to the Old Testament, images of the fruit were embroidered onto the hem of the robe worn by the Hebrew high priest. In Christianity, representations of pomegranates are often woven into fabrics used for church vestments and hangings, the broken fruit bursting with seeds symbolizing Christ's suffering and resurrection. Islam's four gardens of paradise—described in the Qur'an—contain pomegranates. According to Islamic legend, each fruit contains one seed that has descended from paradise. And Buddhists view pomegranates as one of three blessed fruits (along with citrus and peaches). Buddhist legend tells of how the Buddha gave the demoness Hariti, who ate children, a pomegranate to eat in order to cure her of the dreadful urge. In China, Buddhists often give pictures of ripe, open pomegranates as wedding presents as they symbolize fertility, abundance, and posterity. Artists have been inspired by the inner and outer beauty of the pomegranate since biblical times. The objects on view in this exhibition represent a cross-section of textiles from the Museum's collection that feature this richly symbolic fruit.
Dilys Blum • The Jack M. and Annette Y. Friedland Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles