Friday, November 20, 2009

Bountiful Harvest: The Cornucopia in History and Miniatures

I've always loved images and decor that feature a cornucopia or 'horn of plenty'. There is a sense of richness, bounty, and welcome in that symbol. In the West, we usually see it featured in the context of harvest but it also appears in Winter holiday imagery as a sign of feasting and wealth to be shared. Below is a lovely vintage Victorian card depicting seasonal sentiments.
Since the 5th century BCE, deities such as the Roman Fortuna, Goddess of luck and fate, would be depicted carrying a cornucopia. Today the “Horn of Plenty” is a symbol of the abundance of the harvest, most often associated in America with the Thanksgiving holiday. It is filled with New World pumpkins and maize. Also, the cornucopia is no longer a genuine goat or bull horn, but rather a large, cone-shaped wicker basket. Though the material may have changed, the meaning of the cornucopia has persisted throughout the centuries and many a horn of plenty graces the center of the Thanksgiving dinner table. I found many lovely examples in miniature!

Above is a handmade 1:12 scale work by Sandy Copeland, available in her Etsy shop:

Above is another handmade 1:12 miniature available on Etsy, this time by the artist Deana or 'minide'. Available at:

Above is a beautiful hand woven miniature cornucopia basket by Etsy artist Yahzmin available at:

The History of The Horn:
The cornucopia is an ancient symbol, deriving ultimately from the coveted horns of the now extinct aurochs, a huge breed of wild cattle. 'Corn' refers to the modern word 'horn' much as unicorn means 'one horned'. Above is a modern painting 'The Aurochs' by Heinrich Harder (1858-1935), probably created in 1920. The earliest indication of the importance of this animal can be seen in the beautiful cave paintings of Lascaux, France.
Below is the famous cave carving of the Neolithic Goddesses, found in Laussel, France. She holds a horn with 13 rings, said to symbolize the 13 full moons in a year.
New evidence shows that the Aurochs became extinct around AD 600 in most of Europe. The last known aurochs died in Poland in 1627. The animal was much larger than the common cows we know today, with aurochs bulls measuring between 160 and 180 cm at the withers, and aurochs cows between 140 and 150 cm. The huge species from the ice ages died out not only because it was hunted, but also because more and more land was being used for agriculture and the human population was increasing.

The Fighting Bull, also known as the toro de lidia, toro lidiado, ganado bravo, Touro de Lide, is a direct descendent of the highly aggressive and solitary wild auroch subspecies, Bos taurus Ibericus. In fact, this is thought to be the ancestor of all the dark colored breeds found on the Iberian peninsula. Modern breeding still selects for aggressiveness, strength and vigor. They are bred primarily in Spain, Portugal and those Latin American countries were bull fighting is organized.
Depictions of cornucopia also include the curved horns of rams and goats, symbols of male fertility and general earthly bounty. These horns were used as drinking vessels, musical instruments, and containers of prized goods. Below are a Victorian example of ornate drinking horns.
In my studies, I found pictures of numerous beautiful drinking horns from throughout the ages and all across the globe. I also discovered many depictions of horns of plenty carrying grains and fruits in Classical Greek and Roman artwork. Below, an ancient vessel painting depicts Hades carrying his bride Persephone's harvest grains and gourds as she returns to the earthly realm to visit her mother, a metaphor for the return of Spring. Below, the Greek God Zues recieves an offering within an ornate cornucopia. According to Greek legend, one day Zeus was playing with his goat foster mother, Amalthea (Amaltheia), he accidentally broke off one of her horns. To atone for this, Zeus promised Amalthea that the horn would always be full of whatever fruits she desired. Amalthea then offered it him as a sign of reverence. Zeus was humbled by her generosity and set the goat's image in the sky to become the constellation Capricorn.
The magic horn then became the cornucopia of the Roman goddess Copia, the personification of plenty. Other goddesses, including Fortuna and Pax, also held the cornucopia.

And so another year comes near its end... Everyone have a Happy Thanksgiving and eat waaay too much!!!


dalesdreams said...

What a lovely article, Grim. :)

Happy Thanksgiving to you, too. :)

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