Prior to the 19th century, the olive plant or branch and its strong symbolic meanings stemming from both classical and the Judeo-Christian traditions were referenced by painters and sculptors in their work. It was not until the 1800s that depictions of flowers and plants escaped from their allegorical sense and an increase in the number of canvases portraying the Italian landscape and its olive groves was observed.
Realistic representations of olive trees began in the 19th century. The process of depicting landscapes down to their smallest details allowed for olive trees to be painted autonomously as a subject of their own. Impressionists were stunned by the age, beauty and complexity of the olive trees and went on to produce masterpieces of art.
Worthy of note is Van Gogh’s struggle “to catch” the olive trees. In a letter to his brother he claimed that “they are old silver, sometimes with more blue in them, sometimes greenish, bronzed, fading white above a soil which is yellow, pink, violet tinted orange... very difficult, the rustle of the olive grove has something very secret in it, and immensely old. It is too beautiful for us to dare to paint it or to be able to imagine it”. Cezanne, Renoir, and Matisse, the world’s great Biblical reporters, literary writers, and poets immortalised the olive tree.