Art Essentials – Symbols in Art


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Iconography, the study of symbols – be they animals, artefacts, plants, shapes or gestures – is an essential element of art history.

This guide unravels over fifty of the most common and intriguing visual symbols from across the globe from 2300 BCE to the present day. While symbols cross dialects and national boundaries, their meanings can vary and are often culturally specific. The snake, an object of fascination and mysticism in Aztec culture, usually represents sin in the west. Yinka Shonibare’s Last Supper (2013) plays on the grapevine’s historic associations to satiric and startling effect.

Matt Wilson explores symbolism’s subtle implications and overt and covert meanings, providing an indispensable tool for interpretation. A reference section includes suggestions for further reading and a glossary of art and historical terms.

Table of Contents

IntroductionLand and Sky: Water; Mountain; Clouds; Rainbow; Lightning; Moon; Sun; Fire • Plants: Carnation; Cypress; Laurel; Lily; Lotus; Palm; Grapevine; Poppy; Sunflower • Birds: Dove; Eagle; Owl; Peacock; Phoenix; Falcon; Crane • Beasts: Cat; Deer/Stag; Dog; Fish; Lion; Monkey; Snake; Horse; Dragon • Bodies: Skeleton; Skull; Foot; Pose; Hand gestures; Blood; Eye; Angel; Halo • Possessions: Shell; Bow and arrow; Crown; Mask; Scales; Sword; Trumpet; Timepiece; Mirror

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