Sardine Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Sardine Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

While many of us think of sardines as simply delicious snacks, there’s actually a bit of symbolism that goes well beyond their reputation as ‘tightly packed fishies in a tin’. In today’s article, we’ll take a look at the sardine tattoo, to tell you a little about the symbolism, meanings, and more so that you can see it for yourself.

As it turns out, there’s a whole lot of meaning packed inside that sardine tin. Let’s take a look!


What is the History of Sardine Tattoos?

Close cousins of the Herring, the word ‘sardine’ was first coined around the 15th century by the English and it is believed to come from the Isle of Sardinia, where these bite-sized fishies were once known to be quite plentiful.

The tinned variety of sardines wouldn’t come until much later, though in 1810, during the Napoleonic a Frenchman named Nicholas Appert won a contest for finding a preservation method for foods, and in this case sardines were deemed a winner – though they weren’t yet in their distinctive tins, but rather in jars. Appert eventually upgraded them to tins and the legendary snack was born!

Sardines aren’t just for snacking, however, and in Spain there is a famous practice known as ‘The Burial of the Sardine’, which marks the end of Carnival each year. It dates back to the 18th century and we’re still not sure of its original intent.

During the ritual, a sardine in a small coffin is carried in a funeral procession, while onlookers mourn, and eventually it is burnt as a conclusion and its ashes thrown into the sea. So, as you can see, there’s potentially a lot more to sardine tattoos than meets the eye!  


What Do Sardine Tattoos Symbolize?

The symbolism of a sardine tattoo is going to depend a lot on its presentation.

For instance, sardines in a tin might represent tight friendships that last for a lifetime. A sardine on its own could represent a feeling of isolation, though it could also be a patriotic express if you are from or have family from Portugal.

There the sardine is a bit of a national iconic, as it’s been a staple and favorite food since Romans first found the fishy foodstuff.  

Generally, they are depicted the way that everyone is familiar with them, though, all tightly packed together in a tin can which has been rolled open to expose the fish inside. When seen like this, it could symbolize a love of the snack, or on a deeper level love, family, and a strong sense of community.

It’s all about how the sardine tattoo is designed, whether it is a lone fish, a bunch in a can, or a part of a larger arrangement. With art, you can say and symbolize just about anything, provided you are willing to take the time to carefully plan out your design.


What Do Sardine Tattoos Mean?

Sardine tattoos can say a lot of things for their owner. If the fish is depicted in an anthropomorphic fashion where it looks scared, it might be a way of saying that the owner feels like a ‘small fish in a big pond’.

Shown in a tin, it could say that the owner keeps their friends close until the end, or if something clever such as ‘rent’ is printed on the can, it could be a statement about modern society and how it treats folks who aren’t part of that ruling ‘1%’ who command its wealth.

Sardine tattoos also open up for expressions that are more about the fun than saying anything too serious. You can put the heads of people you care about on them, or have a lone sardine dancing atop the can away from the others – just get creative with it and see what happens.

A sardine tattoo can not only mean a lot of things, it’s also a highly recognizable symbol around the world, so if you take your time and have fun with the design then people around the world are going to get your meaning and enjoy this unique skin art selection that you’ve decided to share with them.


Where Do Sardine Tattoos Usually Go?

Sardine tattoos are usually going to go on the outer part of the arm or up higher by the shoulder, though it’s not unknown for sardine tattoos to go on the ankle or on the back.

This is one tattoo that you won’t generally see on the hip, though, as less tasteful onlookers are likely to suggest things that you’ll want to smack them for. Sadly, there’s no accounting for taste – so, always bank on sarcasm as a possible reception to placement options and hedge your bets against it!


Characteristics and Styles of Sardine Tattoos

The characteristics of a sardine tattoo will be based on intent, with black and white being a popular option for more ‘serious’ sardines, while the tinned variety might also fit for this or be used as an excuse to go with some vivid coloration.

A Portuguese sardine will usually have azulejos, which are a specific type of patterned tiles that are quite common in Portuguese culture and instantly recognizable to anyone from or who has visited Portugal.

As far as styles, you’ve got a lot of leeway. Photorealistic Sardines certainly look quite odd and interesting, while New School sardines can make for a humorous design that you can even customize. For instance, family or friend’s heads on each fish make quite the statement!

Think on what exactly it is that you want to say with your sardine tattoo and then check your artist’s portfolio afterwards to get a good idea of the styles that they do best. The perfect design will come to you when you are ready!


In closing

In this article we have explored the idea of a sardine tattoo and given you a bit of information about the subject so that you can make an informed choice about the best sardine tattoo for you!

There’s a whole of symbolism and history packed into those little tins, and since just about everyone on the planet has seen a sardine tin, you can rest assured that whatever you want to say, there will be no doubt which fish you’ve chosen. Granted, it’s a bit off of the beaten path, but that’s what makes it fun.

There’s really nothing quite like a Sardine tattoo!

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