Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why wheat?

Godfried Shalcken 1643-1706: Cérès cherchant Proserpine
Musée de l'Hôtel Lallemant at Bourges

This seemed to me to be the perfect moody image for the Fall season.  It's time for lovely Proserpina to return to the underworld for half the year as she has been doing ever since she was first abducted there by Pluto. In this 17th century version of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, harvest and motherly love is shown with her attributes of  fruit and wheat. With a determined flame, she is searching the dusky half-light for her beloved daughter and neglecting her earthly work while doing so. The soil will be barren until the return of Proserpina. Then Ceres will rejoice again and shower her daughter with fruit and flowers and the earth will enjoy Spring once more. It was the best sentence Jupiter could work out for a young maid who had partaken --oh, so little-- of nourishment in the land of the dead. So go the cycles.

In the word Ceres is the Indo-European root ker, meaning to grow. It is also the root for the words cereals, create, and increase. Wheat is associated with creativity, prosperity, regeneration.

chez Chanel rue Cambon

"Wheat is a recurrent theme in Mademoiselle Chanel’s apartment. She made it her lucky charm, like a subtle metaphor for creativity that never ends…

In each room of the apartment, wheat makes an appearance: as a brass bouquet, in gilded wood on the sitting-room fireplace, as gilded sheaves for a table leg, or even as a simple blade painted for Mademoiselle by Dali."

photo and quote: chanel-news.com

last 2 photos: Ivan Terestchenko
from Les paradis secrets de Yves Saint Laurent et de Pierre Bergé by Robert Murphy

 In Robert Murphy's splendidly illustrated Les paradis secrets de Yves Saint Laurent et de Pierre Bergé,
Terestchenko's photos abound with views of sheaves, wreaths, and other intimate displays of wheat tucked here and there. In every one of their homes, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé kept bouquets of wheat.
We've seen it so much lately on the podiums, catwalks, shops in garb and jewel. After coral, wheat seems to be delighting us with its new/ancient forms golden or green. Why not?


  1. What a lovely post! The painting is a delight - I wish I could see it in life.

    Years ago, Harrods sold versions of Chanel's wheat tables and I remember finding them charming but peer pressure from design conscious Modernist influenced friends deemed them tasteless.

    There is something elemental about a sheaf of wheat. When I was a child, and it may still happen, churches were decorated with sheaves at harvest time - the Harvest Festival.

  2. Good morning from the wheat state. We were married in my husband's parent's home and I had a sheaf of wheat hung on the front door for its lovely symbolism. I have two garden statues of summer and fall that I have dubbed Demeter and Persephone, the names I attach to the myth. Demeter has wheat woven in her hair. Wheat is a beautiful form with ancient meaning and I have always adored it.

  3. Blue, I love visiting smaller museums in France and stumbling upon treasures like this one. The painting is very dim and the lighting effects subtle. Shalcken
    was a student of Rembrandt but his lighting effects seem almost closer to Georges de la Tour because his renderings are tightly detailed, not painterly.

    The Chanel tables are beautiful, but I can imagine that they could have seemed corny if not handled well.

    I associate wheat with harvest time too, but Chanel and YSL seem to show that it is trans-seasonal. I remember learning in college that the ancient mystery cults of Eleusis used corn and wheat in their most secret rites. Elemental is the word.

    HbD: Yes, in truth I am more comfortable with the Greek names, but « Ceres » brings home the cereal association and was the painting’s title too. Your statues sound wonderful. I can’t help but ask, is your owl named Athena? I’d love to see your garden. My autumn decorations won't be complete until they include a sheaf of wheat.

  4. As always you take us on a beautiful journey. I am especially fond of the Goddess of the Underworld since I had the misfortune or fortune of living in Florida for two years when I was younger. I was married and the state, full of sunshine for some was a very can dark place to me with subterranean waters. I still enjoy pomegranates.

  5. This has always been one of my favorite mythological tales - and for years in Washington I noticed everywhere the theme of wheat sheaves. There is hardly a federal building that doesn't employ them!

  6. loved this post! so full of imagery and metaphors. shadows and promise. loved it! and what's not to like about the promise of wheat when you contemplate the lovely bread that comes from it. thx!

  7. Kendra: the opposing forces are everywhere, I know you agree, it's just that there are some spots where the contrast is greater. I'm with you on popping a pomegranate seed from time to time...

    Sanity Fair: The US is a very wheaty place. Could that be part of the secret of its strength?

    Mlle Paradis: Thank you. And now I'm now off to the boulangerie for a bit of the staff of life!

  8. wheat is elegant when used in design.
    you are terrific.
    great post.

  9. Thank you, Renée. Instead of sending you a flower, I'm wishing you over a perfectly elegant golden wheat stalk!

  10. Very interesting, I adore the work of art.....being in Kansas City, going out to the country are many wheat stalks.

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