The Iconography of the Pineapple; A Work by George Brookshaw May 17 2017

George Brookshaw (1751-1823)

Black Jamaica

Hand-colored Stipple Aquatint Engraving

London: T. Bensley, for the author, 1804-1822

George Brookshaw was born in Birmingham in 1751 and died in London in 1823.  Both he and his brother trained as artisans, apprenticing in their youth to Samuel Troughton, a painter and ‘japanner’.  In 1778 he married the daughter of a wealthy Birmingham gunsmith, and around the same time he established a London workshop. He mainly made painted and stove-japanned furniture for the top ranks of society.  In the mid 1790s Brookshaw’s personal circumstances changed once again, and he left the furniture trade for good. Ever resourceful, he used his draftsman's skills to become a professional botanical illustrator.

In November of 1493, Christopher Columbus set sail on his second voyage to the new world, this time landing on the Caribbean Island he declared as Santa Maria de Guadeloupe.  Upon his arrival, Columbus and his men discovered numerous new species of plants and animals, including that of the exotic pineapple.  The native Tupinamba people, scared of the foreign Westerners, fled for the mountains, leaving behind tropical parrots and baskets full of ‘fruit that looked like green pine cones but were much larger and with solid pulp, like a melon, but were much sweeter in taste and smell’.  By the fifteenth century, the natives of the new world had been eating the exotic plant, discovered how to ferment it into wine, and even used it for medicine.  The indigenous fruit spread to present-day Brazil, Guiana, Colombia, parts of Central America, and the West Indies.  Westerners saw the fruit as a gift of bountiful nature and an emblem of worldliness.

Apart from its symbolic meaning, the pineapple was a culinary phenomenon.  In a letter written by Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes, sent by King Ferdinand of Spain, Valdes explained “To taste it is so appetizing a thing, so delicate, that words fail to give it its true praise for this, because none of the other fruits I have mentioned can compare, by many carats, with this… I do not suppose that there is in the world any other of so exquisite and lovely appearance.  Its flesh is… very satisfying to taste.”  The pineapple quickly became recognized for its rarity and was deemed a fruit worthy of a royal table.  The phenomenon quickly transformed into an agricultural vision and Europeans sought to grow the fruit commercially however; they quickly realized that Europe’s climate would not allow such development, thus the first successful pineapple plantations were inevitably formed in the Caribbean. 

It comes as no surprise then that the sweet fruit became a central topic of art and literature, adored for its lavish emblematic disposition.  Transcending European domestication, in colonial American, the fruit symbolized hospitality and wellbeing.  By the 18th century, the pineapple was commonly used architecture as a decorative element, often times adorning entryways and acting as a pinnacle on roofs.  They were even placed on merchant’s entry ways to symbolize their safe return from a successful voyage.