Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Georges de Feure - Le fruit défendu: péché as pêche

Le fruit défendu (1895)
Georges de Feure

My reading in Ben Hale's novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, has turned my thoughts again toward forbidden fruit and its rare depiction as a peach, which Ben picks up on and works into his story. After reading John Milton's description of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in terms better fitting a peach than an apple, as pointed out to me by Robert Appelbaum (who has written on this topic), I wondered about the possibility of a pun in French on pêche (peach) and péché (sin). I haven't confirmed that such a pun has been explicitly made, not in so many (or so few?) words, but the painting above by the French Symboliste painter Georges de Feure (real name: Georges Joseph van Sluÿters, 1868-1943) looks like a visual pun on Eve's biting of a peach as the original sin. Here's what the catelogue notes at Sotheby's Auction says about this painting:
Among the rare works created by de Feure during his sojourns in Bruges, this work is one of the most unusual for its symbolism and modernism. In the foreground, partially obscured by a floral border, a nude woman, Eve-like, holds the gaze of the spectator and proffers a peach she has already bitten. This fruit and its rich juice evoke the biblical temptation in Paradise, and mankind's ensuing fall from grace.

In the background, in the town streets moves a procession of nude women, dancing, applauding and caressing each other. Some wear black stockings while others brandish smoking amphoras above their heads. In front of them, a group of civil and religious dignitaries wave flags and an incense burner. An old bearded man and two naked boys with linked arms form the vanguard of the extraordinary march.

In creating this provocative work, De Feure was possibly inspired by two historical events associated with Bruges: the procession of Saint-Sang that occurs on the day of the Ascension in commemoration of the relic brought back in 1149 from the Second Crusade by Thierry d'Alsace, Count of Flanders; and a group of Anabaptists brutally persecuted in the sixteenth century. The Anabaptists believed that at the apocalypse, God would baptise them in fire (represented by the smoking amphoras in the composition), and consumed by religious fervor, they ran naked through the city streets. Whatever the veracity of these potential sources, De Feure accentuates the sexual and sensual, using the duality of the concept of blood and the underlying theme of Original Sin and redemption. (Lot 41, George de Feure, Le fruit défendu, Sotheby's 19th Century European Paintings (L09663), November 24, 2009, pages 74-75)
For its own source, Sotheby's cites Ian Millman work on George de Feure, Mâitre du Symbolisme et de l'Art Nouveau (Paris, 1992, p. 89, catalogued and discussed; p. 88, illustrated), which can be found among Google Books here (see Section 4 of the text) . As Sotheby notes, the illustration appears on page 88. Pages 89 and 90 are not shown in the preview, but page 92 (not 89!) is actually the page from which Sotheby gets its catalogue notes, having translated the French. The French original refers to the "pêche" (peach) and "Péché originel" (Original Sin), but does not explicitly note any pun.

Any knowledgeable individuals who might add to this query are welcome to post comments.

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At 5:42 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

The hypothesis that the forbidden fruit was a peach has never been advanced in Italy, as far as I know.

On the other hand, in our language, the only possible pun with "pesca" is based on the fact that it means either peach or fishing (though the letter E should be pronounced a bit differently in the two cases.)

In fact, by Googleing a bit through Italian art websites, I just discovered that when "original sin" is associated to the "pesca," the latter is meant as St Peter going fishing! Besides, in Renaissance art the peach - according to some scholars - was considered a symbol of Trinity, let alone sin!

Anyway, it could be maintained that the original sin was the first, big impeachement.

As to Appelbaum, in this case he is a living pun himself.

At 7:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You should read my article on the impedimental peach -- lots of puns.

If you happen to notice any pun on sin and peach in French, then let me know.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:14 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Oh! Where can your article be read? Did you notice that, after Adam & Eve's sin, the world is peach black?

Anyway, I asked my wife, who knows of French language and literature (that's one of her degrees), but, though the two words do make a pun, she can't rememeber any case of a French author employing it.

That's "francamente" (frank- or French-ly) a pity.

At 2:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'll try to find a copy later on my home computer.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:28 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

A pun from my dialect (Piedmont, N-W Italy): the peach is called "pèrsi" which as an adjective, in plain Italian, means "lost" (plural).

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

A Latin name for the peach was "Malum Persicum" -- which might account for the word "pèrsi."

And also for the word "peach."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:11 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Good! Thanks. It is always interesting to exchange words with you... about words.


Aryolisi (word verification) = heretical chemical process?

At 10:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Heterographic, I think.

Jeffery Hodges

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