The Apple

This time I’d like to lure you into the realm of apples. A theme that starts in summer and continues into fall. The apple has a very extensive cultural history and an endless history in mythology, spirituality, and religion. There are countless tales about apples.

The apple is very well known to us as a fruit. It probably originated in Asia, in the Caucasus, where apples were cultivated very early and produced a delicious fruit. The apple is always relevant. It’s very healthy, we all know the saying: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. There’s an incredible number of varieties of apples, in the Alpine region alone there are over 150 different varieties. The Austrian Archduke Johann, the brother of Emperor Franz I, did a lot of development and modernization work in Styria in his time. He commissioned apple models of over 150 different apple varieties from a Berlin workshop. At that time, there were craftspeople dedicated to making models of apples and these models are so real and so beautiful that you’re under the impression you could bite into them, even when you’re holding them in your hand. Their weight, shape, color, and luster are exactly the same as in nature.

But not only that, the apple is also part of many other words. Potatoes are called “Erdäpfel”, so “Earth-apples” in Austria. Then there’s the paradise apple, which refers to the tomato. There are horse apples, as the droppings of horses are called because of their shape. Proverbially we use the apple of discord, which comes from Greek mythology.

You may know the painting by Rubens, the Judgment of Paris, in which Paris is holding an apple in his hand. That was the golden apple that had been taken from the Hesperides, the guardians of the golden apples. Paris had to make a decision with it. There was a dispute among the gods, which goddess was more beautiful, and Paris was supposed to solve this dispute, by giving the golden apple to the most beautiful goddess. In the end, he chose Aphrodite, who in return promised him the beautiful Helen of Troy as his wife. However, Helen was already married and so it came to the Trojan War. Anyway, Paris had to make a decision to whom the golden apple should belong, and exactly this moment is shown in this famous depiction: Paris with the apple in his hand.

In the 11th century, the orb came into history as a creative innovation. Every great ruling house had an orb. The first one was the imperial Roman orb, which can be seen in the Treasury in Vienna. But there’s one in every ruling house, so also in Prussia, in Sweden, in Denmark. With the orb, the imperial apple in their left hand, the rulers showed that they’re powerful and hold the world in their hands. This idea of the orb is exclusively symbolic. Sometimes, in addition to the scepter, it’s also part of the crown jewels, the insignia of power.

The most important mythology around the apple is the Fall of Man. The expulsion from paradise is directly related to this fruit. It could have been a different fruit, but we associate this narrative with the apple. This came about in the Middle Ages through a play on words. Because in Latin, “malum” means both “evil, bad” and “apple”. Hence this idea that the fruit was an apple. It also involves the symbolism of original sin, which began with indulgence, biting into the apple, and resulted in mankind being expelled from paradise. What happened along with it? When Adam ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge, the unity of God and the world and life was broken at that moment. The ability to differentiate between what is good and what is evil was placed in man, and with it sin. Thus, the apple is a symbol of original sin.

There’s also a link to the apple in more recent history. The apple of Korbinian. It’s a variety of apples cultivated by the Bavarian apple pastor Korbinian Aigner. Some may have seen the 402 drawings of his apples at Documenta 13 in Kassel in the year 2012. Korbinian was a priest who was imprisoned and killed in the concentration camp in Dachau. Yet, he still managed to smuggle the apples he cultivated out of the concentration camp during his lifetime, and so this Korbinian apple has been preserved for us. So, there’s a very sad contemporary history connected to apples.

The apple is also connected to everything that means life. It’s a symbol of life, as food, as something that’s healthy, that nourishes us. But we’ve also mentioned other symbols: the apple of discord, the apple of religion, the mythological apple, the play on words. The apple is also an ancient symbol of earth. From the very beginning it was attributed to the revelation of the feminine principle, to the goddesses and to love, sexuality and fertility. In the context of art history, the meaning of an apple always depends on the context of the painting. All this can be found in the history of art.

But now we come to our exercise. An apple is something we know from everyday life. We don’t imagine anything incredibly special about it because it seems so ordinary to us. Some people eat an apple every day. We now want to bring this everyday object into aesthetic reality. How does that work?

The apple has a simple shape. But if you look at it closely and put different varieties next to each other, you can see that each apple variety has its own shape. Maybe you’ll manage to get a few different varieties of apples. Maybe even a few old apple varieties. A variety is considered old if it was bred before 1940. Studying the shape of these apples is the first task. Of course, they have different coloration and color textures, mixtures of green, yellow, red, and orange. There’s a magnificence created by the color. You can study the apple in its outer shape. It’s a line that circumscribes the apple. Don’t make any shadows in it. Just the shape and the stem. Mark the stem as a parallel line as it’s extended from the fruit. Maybe you’re lucky and the stem still carries leaves from the apple tree. But the essential thing is the apple itself.

Once you’ve looked at the outer shape, cut the apple in half and study the two halves of the apple. The outline and the core. Study that very carefully. The seeds are dark elements on your white drawing sheet. You can really make the apple core your subject.

At the end, take a bite out of the apple. So, you taste it, too. Really taste it.

For this impulse, you have three possibilities: the apple in its outer shape, the cut apple, and the bitten apple. May you enjoy the apple in all these ways!
If you have different apples, perhaps arrange them side by side. Or study the same apple from different angles. That way you train your eye to notice the smallest changes. It’s very difficult to depict these delicate oscillations, these minimal bumps and dents of the apple. It’s not meant to be a mechanical apple that is skillfully drawn on the page. Rather, you should study it very carefully. If you don’t have much time, if you can’t study the apple because you’re in a hurry, then cut the apple in half, apply some paint and just like with the potato print, press it onto the page. Through the color and the print, you can create a very beautiful work this way, that I hope you enjoy. I wish you a lot of pleasure with the apple, a lot of joy.

Prepare well so that it feels like you’re bringing the apple back to paradise.