Saturday, August 25, 2012

Decorative Stonework at the Artists' Guild

Saint Louis Artists Guild, in Clayton, Missouri, USA - fireplace mantle detail - carved stone

This decorative stone carving is a detail of a fireplace mantel, at the Saint Louis Artists' Guild, located in Oak Knoll Park, in Clayton, Missouri. The Guild's building was once a private residence, built in the 1920s.

Objects shown here include flowers, grapes, shells, ribbons and pomegranates. Here they are undoubtedly used as symbols of plenty, festivity, and fecundity. These kinds of designs were found in antiquity, originally in the eastern Mediterranean region, and this symbolism is found in the Song of Songs in the Old Testament.  The display of the fruits of the harvest, such as we see here, were associated with the ritual sacrifice of the first-fruits to God, and similar designs can be found on ancient coins from Judea.

Pomegranates decorated the vestments of the High Priest and column capitals of the Temple, and are used as decorations on the scrolls of the Torah to this day. Due to the large number of seeds contained within, they symbolize the 613 Commandments in the Torah, as well as the multitudes of people in the Church. Pomegranates also have use in popular piety especially in the Christian East; and since the symbol of this fruit has spiritual meaning — representing the Resurrection — we also find it in Western liturgical art. The 3rd century floor mosaic, from Hinton Saint Mary in Dorset, depicts these fruits with Christ. A photograph of another mantle-piece at the Artist's Guild, showing pomegranates more clearly, can be found here.

Until fairly recently, people of all classes and conditions would frequently open their homes to visitors: friends, family, and even to strangers who are passing through. This kind of hospitality was married to the festive decor that is found in older homes and churches but which is rarely found today. As our ancient liturgical traditions and older popular customs remind us, this festivity is also a sacrificial offering.

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