The Language of Flour Sacks
Symbols and their meaning
A historical comparison of the flour sacks in the collection shows that the symbols on the sacks are by no means just decorative or a matter of chance. On the contrary: they are references to the great cultural significance of agriculture, corn, flour and bread. It is possible to distinguish roughly between three “groups” of symbols.
Symbols of the sun and majesty
The sun is regarded as the source of all life and has an aura of splendour and invincibility. Many of these interpretations have passed to wheat as the “king of the fields”. Like the rising and setting of the sun, the sowing and harvesting of wheat stand for the course of life itself.
Motifs: Sun, wreath of corn ears, wheels, discs (as symbols of the sun), eagle (lord of the air), lion (king of animals), cock, dragon and camel (symbols of rule and majesty in their particular cultures).
Muscle-men and machines
Wheat is bursting with power! Flour owes the use of these symbols brimming with vigour to its role as a source of strength and a supplier of energy. A variant of this is the use of saints as symbols. They are a reference to the divine power concealed in the corn.
Motifs: Athlete, Atlas (the Titan from Greek mythology), elephant, buffalo, steam locomotive, computer.
An extension of this secular symbolism is the use of saints as motifs. They stand for the spiritual and divine power, purity and strength contained in the corn. They are also a reference to the original myth of corn as a gift from the gods.
Motifs: Catholic saints such as St. Francis or the Virgin of Covadonga, much revered in Spain.
Milling and baking
The third group of symbols comes closest in content to the subject of flour. Motifs from the field of flour and milling stand for the long tradition of wheat growing and milling; idyllic landscapes and golden wheat fields symbolize the fundamental value of flour as a product of nature.
Motifs: Millers, bakers, windmills and water mills, housewives, pastry cooks, landscapes, wheat fields
You will find more information on symbolism and illustrations of nearly all the flour sacks in the Exhibition catalogue.