Dr. Lori: Holiday fruits give punch to antique decor

Published 3:02 pm Thursday, November 29, 2012

Arts & Antiques


Along with festive sights, a major part of the holidays is aromatic smells. From evergreens to the holiday meal, the holidays offer a feast for the eyes and for the nose. Some of the most popular scents derive from holiday decorations such as fruit wreaths, citrus pomanders and evergreen garlands. The models for these luscious holiday elements all have roots in art history.

Renaissance wreaths

The works of art by the Renaissance artisan and master, Luca della Robbia, served as the impetus for today’s version of the holiday fruit wreath. Aptly called the della Robbia wreath, fruit wreaths decorate homes and hearths all over the world. Della Robbia’s 15th century architectural medallions were often highlighted with fruit wreaths and decorative garlands of green and red apples, berries, pineapples, lemons, limes and oranges. Based on these Renaissance decorations, the della Robbia-style wreath was reintroduced during the late 1800s in a time period known as the Renaissance Revival.

Traditionally, fruit wreaths were lovingly hung on the exterior doors of homes at holiday time. Fruit wreaths gave the winter greenery a bright, colorful contrast.

Fruits often appear in the paintings, prints, architectural and furniture designs of the 18th and 19th centuries based on Renaissance iconography. The type of fruit chosen for such living wreaths was symbolic. For instance, ornamental apples symbolized the family and this fruit played a  major role in holiday  decorations. Apple ring wreaths were associated, at Christmas time, with the Holy family and the Nativity.

Other related wreaths featured fruits, such as lemons, pineapples and oranges. Wreaths made of whole lemons symbolized friendship and were typically hung on doors at the back of homes (where close friends enter), rather than on front doors. For the holidays, fruit-inspired decorations remind us of the bountiful harvest and the joy of sharing with family and friends. Also, pineapples were symbolic fruits associated with the holiday season. The pineapple represented the tradition of hospitality at holiday time and all year long. The hospitable pineapple form was typically carved into Chippendale and Federal furniture, including bedposts, mantles, dining room sideboards, etc. Today, pineapples are the fruit of choice for home décor items ranging from silver candelabras to front porch welcome mats.

Fancy fruit

Like fruit wreaths, fruit pyramids and aromatic pomanders dating back to the Colonial period were among the delights of a holiday home. Scents of fresh fruit and spices lingered from the table top fruit pyramids suggesting architectural examples in miniature. In the 19th century, sweet smelling fruit pomanders had yet to be relegated to the hall closet, but instead they were prominently hung front and center in a Victorian home’s entry foyer. Enhanced with whole cloves, orange, lime or lemon pomanders were suspended over doorways and in stairwells to give busy areas of a home a lovely scent. Made by pushing cloves into whole oranges or other citrus fruits, a pomander was a welcomed and popular hostess gift. They were used in the 1700s and 1800s to ward off foul odors that were thought to bring illness into a home in wintertime.

In colonial America, fruit wreaths, pyramids, and pomanders were popular in holiday homes. These antique holiday handicrafts not only smelled delightful with the scents of apple, clove and citrus, but they were pretty, natural additions to the interior decor. The pleasing aroma of the fruit decoration allows the pomander to maintain a prominent place among holiday decorations. Happy holidays!

Antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents appraisal events nationwide. Watch Dr. Lori appraise antiques on “Auction Kings.”