Coral in popular culture

Coral has taken on various meanings over time in popular culture, history and art.

Its peculiarity and its relative rarity have always made it an element of great value and refinement. In fact, since ancient times coral has been used for making jewelry or as a decorative element for the most diverse tools.

In classical antiquity it was believed that coral was born from contact some algae with the severed head of Medusa, which had had the same petrifying power as her gaze. Ovid tells us about it in his Metamorphoses, when he describes the episode following the liberation of Andromeda by Perseus.

For the ancient Celts, coral is compared to female beauty, but it is also a symbol of life and regeneration; for this they used it for the decoration of the warriors' grave goods.

Thanks to its shape - tree or tangle of blood vessels - to its color - red like blood, vehicle of life - and due to its mysterious ability to harden in contact with the air, coral in Ancient Rome had taken on curative and beneficial properties, even lucky charms.
It was widely used especially with newborns: they were made them wear coral pendants, it was administered in powder form for the prevention and treatment of epileptic seizures, to chase away nightmares and to soothe the pains of teething.

The meaning of coral as a specific childhood amulet was also preserved during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, as evidenced by numerous works of art: it is even worn by the Child Jesus in various paintings, such as the "Madonna di Senigallia" by Piero della Francesca.
Also, he got rich even or beneficial powers: its morphological characteristics also made it a protection against lightning and the danger of sudden death. It even became the cure for bleeding and menstrual cycle abnormalities and coagulation for wounds, ulcers and scars - this is due to its similarity in shape and color to blood vessels and its ability to solidify.
In the Middle Ages, its shape was even approached to that of the Cross, making coral also an amulet against Evil.

The introduction of the use of the rosary in devotional practices it made common the use of coral for the realization of the red grains that recalled the mystical roses of the Marian garden, as evidenced by the Tuscan portraiture of the fifteenth century. An example is the portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Ghirlandaio.

In some Renaissance altarpieces there are objects and decorations in coral, which were usually used for the enrichment of thrones and canopies that welcome Mary and Baby Jesus: in addition to being a good omen for the entire parish community, this use testifies to the custom of decorating churches with rare and precious objects, a symbol of the wonder and beauty of creation.
A precious example of such representations is represented by the "Pala della Vittoria" by Andrea Mantenga.

In the Mannerist sixteenth century the meaning of Coral amplifies its alchemical values. The myth of Perseus and Medusa, the metamorphosis and the arcane power of natural elements are back in vogue.
The processing of coral in this era becomes particularly elaborate, until its development, in the Baroque period, in the Southern Italy, of a form of refined and rich craftsmanship, whose production of both devotional and mythological-inspired objects, is mainly aimed at the rich Italian and Spanish courts.

Leave a comment