• The connection between stone fruits and male derrières is not a new thing. (Flickr)
From the infamous film scene of "the guy who had sex with a peach" to Manet's orange girls, you'll never look at fruit in the same innocent way again.
Ruby Hamad

14 Feb 2018 - 7:55 AM  UPDATED 14 Feb 2018 - 7:42 AM

It seems a dreadful shame to typecast an actor barely out of his teens, but 22-year-old Timothée Chalamet is already a bona fide heartthrob thanks to his earnest turn as Elio in Call Me By Your Name.

Chalamet plays a “precocious” (which is like “spoiled” but for very rich people) teenager pining for an older man – while dodging the girl his own age who is pining for him. To make things really interesting, in a Bold and the Beautiful kind of way, his male love interest is also cavorting with another of the teenage girls who summers in the lush northern Italian countryside (America’s melodrama is Europe’s masterpiece).

It is amidst all these shenanigans that young Elio consigns the actor who portrays him to forever be known as ‘the guy who had sex with a peach’.


In case you missed the subtle metaphor, the peach – stone removed, of course – is a substitute for a certain body part of his older-but-still-young-and-perfectly-chiselled (this is important and you’ll see why later) male lover. So as not to shock the one or two audience members who somehow managed to make it into the theatre without already hearing about the infamous scene, director Luca Guadagnino foreshadows the liaison by peppering the film with lingering shots of ripe peaches almost bursting with juicy promise.

But for all the nudges and winks it has inspired, this is not exactly the first time fruit (or fruit-filled dessert) has been used by artists in this way. In fact, Elio is more than 400 years behind (ahem) in making the connection between stone fruits and male derrières.

According to Gastronomica, that honour goes to Italian poet Francesco Berni, who in 1522 exalted the peach above all other fruits for being:

Good before, in the middle and after the meal.
But perfect behind.”

But for all the nudges and winks it has inspired, this is not exactly the first time fruit (or fruit-filled dessert) has been used by artists in this way.

Sealing the connection was a 1598 Italian-English dictionary that translated pesca as both a frutto and “a young man’s bum”. To dare le pesche was “to give one’s taile, to consent to buggerie”.

Of course, if peaches represented the perky bottoms of young men in those times allegedly more sexually repressed than our own, it logically follows other fruits were similarly used as stand-ins for sex and body parts associated with sex.

No prizes for guessing what figs stand for. On the Fruit Punch blog, Hanna Yusuf hilariously explains, “figs split at the seam, are quite red and give off an overall vulvic vibe”. Yusuf credits the fig-leaf’s prominence in Italian Renaissance painting of the 14th to 16th centuries with inspiring later artists to make the link between modesty and patriarchy: “painters and sculptors would display men’s genitalia but would insist on covering a woman’s vulva with a fig leaf.”

Imagine what happens when artists mixed peaches and figs together. Actually don’t imagine, just look at this painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio, Still Life With Fruit On A Stone Ledge.


Caravaggio’s mise en scène, writes Gastronomica, “suggests sexual tumescence and receptiveness to penetration”.

Sadly, Guadagnino is no Caravaggio and so appears to have missed a golden opportunity by not casting figs as well as peaches in his film. For just as Elio finds himself simultaneously courting a young woman and lusting after a man, Caravaggio reminds us that, “cleft peaches … are every bit as enticing as the vulvar figs”.

If that’s a little too ripe for you, things do get a tad more cryptic when it comes to oranges.

One of French Impressionism’s most recognisable paintings, Édouard Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère features a somber looking young barmaid, staring blankly out of the canvas. As expected in a bar, patrons can be seen reflected in the mirror behind her, including a man who appears in the process of ordering something, and the bar is stacked with bottles of liquor.

More mysterious is the basket of oranges beside her left hand that historian Larry L. Ligo claims identifies the barmaid as a sex worker.  As explained by Doris Lanier in her book on the use of absinthe by artists, Ligo made this link because “other paintings in which Manet used oranges, all … include pictures of prostitutes”.

If that’s a little too ripe for you, things do get a tad more cryptic when it comes to oranges.

If that evidence seems circumstantial at best, this association also goes back hundreds of years, this time to the court of King Charles II. The “orange girls” who sold oranges inside theatres (and sometimes went on to be actresses) were also sex workers who, writes a clearly scandalised George Ryley Scott in A History of Prostitution, “made lewd jokes with and told obscene jokes to the men who patronised the theatre”.

Just what is that man in the mirror in the Folies-Bergère ordering? 

Of course, there are many more. Hard, peach-like apples. Pomegranates swollen with juicy seeds. Perfectly round melons. The history of art is so pregnant with sexual (and religious) symbolism, you may never look at a still-life painting the same innocent way again. This can only be a good thing, since you were never really meant to.


Lead image from Flickr (C.C. Chapman).


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