Oysters are generally known with their legendary power as an aphrodisiac. In ancient Greek, oysters were so common that no banquet was complete without a spread of oysters and other seafood. In Roman gastronomy, oysters were a luxury dish. Romans washed oysters in vinegar and kept in jars sealed with pitch. The feminine symbolism of their shell imposes iconographic meaning to oysters. The presence of oysters in paintings generally intensifies the eroticism, physical love and chastity in the atmosphere. Their erotic affect appears in Italian, French, English and especially Dutch genre paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries. This study examines oysters within its figurative context in genre and still life paintings. In this study, starting with an introductory history of the oysters, and their use in ancient civilizations, oysters are examined through the paintings of Sandro Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’, Hendrik van Balen II’s ‘The Feast of the Gods’, Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder’s ‘The Feast of Acheloüs’, Frans Francken II’s ‘Supper at the House of Burgomaster Rockox', Jan Steen’s ‘A Girl Eating Oysters’, and Pieter Claesz’s ‘Still Life with Turkey Pie’. This study indicates that oysters in the analyzed paintings appear as a symbol of multiple meanings such as pleasure, sin, sex, gluttony, lust and monetary passion.

Oysters, Aphrodisiac, Gastronomy, Art of Painting, Symbolism