Symbolism in Renaissance Art & Native American Animal Symbolism
Posted January 10, 2010on:
Renaissance art is full of symbolism.
The Hidden Symbolism of Fruit in Western painting
A ripe apple, a peach, a golden pear, a lemon, a juicy strawberry, an pomegranate—all are charmingly decorative to the average viewer. For painters of the Byzantine, Gothic and Early Renaissance periods, fruit was part of a rich visual language. Art-works exhibited in public, mostly in churches and courthouses, were a stern proclamation that everyone could readily understand. These paintings, with their layer upon layer of vivid symbolism, served as a grim reminder to anyone harboring lustful thoughts or indulging in carnal pleasures. They warned the viewer that death was just around the corner and Satan was at the ready with his pitchfork. Paintings throughout Western history have been used as guides in illuminating the divine mysteries of Gods Holy Word. Bread and wine are prominently featured in painting throughout Western art history.
In a culture of limited literacy symbolic imagery was vital in enlightening the masses. Most prominently featured Fruit in Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance Painting:
pomegranate – Symbolizes eternal life; divine prosperity; unity of the Christian community. The pomegranate can also signify fall from grace and mans sinful nature. Also associated with Saint Catherine, as the mystical bride of Christ.
apple – Carnal pleasures and sin; sins of mankind, original sin; “forbidden fruit”.
fig – Symbolizes loss of innocence and a fall from grace. Adam and Eve wore fig leaves when they first recognized their own nakedness. “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” (Genesis 3:7)
pear – Symbolizes marital faith. Also associated with Saint Catherine, as the mystical bride of Christ.
Grapes Signify lewdness and lustful thoughts.
orange -Symbol of free will.
lemon – Symbolic of a bitter heart or a sour disposition; resentment; unresolved conflict.
strawberry -Symbol of harmony, nourishment of the soul.
peach – Symbol of virtue and honor. A rotting or half-eaten peach symbolizes a woman who has tarnished her reputation with immoral behavior.
Wine made from grapes is a symbol of the Eucharist. The wine is the wine of Sacrifice. The blood of Jesus Christ and symbolic of the holy sacrament of Christ Himself. “This embodies Me: where this is, I am: receiving this, you receive Me.” “This is My Blood”–that is, “This is My life: My life which is given for you: My life which in death I laid down and in rising again from the dead I resumed: My life which is to be the principle of spiritual life in you.” “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life…. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me and I in him.”
The Hidden Symbolism of Colors in Western ART
The symbolic interpretation of Colors used in Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance Painting
Byzantine, Gothic and Early Renaissance paintings are rich in philosophical and Christian symbolism regarding the Colors.
Blue – symbolizes purity; The Virgin Mary; Virgin and Child; The Immaculate Conception
Red– a symbol of greediness and lust. Denotes sin; sins of mankind, original sin; temptation, Judas, Harrowing of Hell, The Fiery Furnace, Slaughter of the Innocents, Apocalypse
Green – symbolizes the Resurrection, the Ascension, Baptism
White – is a sign of innocence; Birth, Youth, Betrothal and Marriage; The Virgin Mary; Virgin and Child; The Immaculate Conception, The Holy Family
Grey/Black/Dark Brown – symbolic of the Entombment, Crosses, Crucifixes Yellow – symbolizes a remembrance of the spiritual world ; miracles, harmony, sustenance of the soul
Pink – symbolizes eternal innocence; The Virgin Mary; Virgin and Child; The Immaculate Conception
Orange – a symbol of materialism and desire for worldly goods in favor of spiritual health. Denotes indulgence; carnal desires, original sin; corruption, Judas.
The Hidden Symbolic Meaning of Animals in Western Painting
The iconographical interpretation of Animals in Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance Painting
A leering monkey, a playful finch, a scheming snake, a clever crow, a robin, an osprey—all are charmingly decorative to the average viewer. For painters of the Gothic, Early Renaissance and High Renaissance eras, symbols were part of a rich visual language. In a culture of restricted literacy symbolic imagery was vital in keeping sinners on the path to heaven. In Medieval times people believed that animals had the ability to recognize the quality of piety or evil in humans and the creatures reacted accordingly. If a sparrow landed upon someone’s head or shoulder the person was believed to be especially virtuous. However if a raven nested on a villagers roof his home was often put to the torch as this was sign of a sinful dwelling. Dogs were thought to posses power to look into a persons soul and were used to determine if a person was a heretic or a witch. The canines were often included in courtroom proceedings and if a dog look intently or growled at the accused, the person was judged guilty of witchcraft and burned alive in the village square.
Wolf – symbolizes compassion and mercy. The wolf was used as the emblem for many early Saints including St. Francis of Assisi who is often shown with a wolf .
ermine – symbolizes truth, fidelity, mischief making. Often associated with the aristocracy or royalty.
White Horse – a symbol of victory, conquest, goodness and invincibility. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. ” — Revelation 19:11
The ape symbolizes a lustful soul filled with sinful thoughts.
cat – symbolizes shrewdness, treachery, trickery and watchfulness. Often associated with Satan, witchcraft or sorcery.
winged ox – represents Luke the Evangelist, one of the four evangelist.
ox – symbolizes strength, power, humility “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” Matt. 11:28
The Vulture epitomized greed, corruption and ruthless power.
The singing robin symbolizes deliverance from evil and God’s holy mercy. A caged robin signifies removal from Gods holy grace.
The Eagle is a symbol of Christ and of regeneration by baptism.
eagle – represents John the Evangelist, one of the four Evangelist. The eagle also the symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
winged lion – represents Mark the Evangelist, one of the four evangelist.
lion – a symbol of power, majesty, wisdom, tyranny, viciousness, dignity, and leadership. The lion represents both Jesus Christ as well as Satan, a wise king or a tyrant.
lamb – symbolizes humility, peace, and innocence. The lamb represents Christ as the Lamb, and also Christians as the flock.
Dolphin – sign of the resurrection and symbolizes Christ guiding Christians to heaven.
Goat – symbol of Satan. Satan is often depicted as a horned and hoofed goat-like creature.
Unicorn, a symbol of purity, harmony, the arrival of Spring. Since the Middle Ages the unicorn was a symbol of chastity and innocence, it was believed that a unicorn could only be tamed by a virgin’s gentle stroke.
Pig – symbolizes material desires, excess and self-indulgence.
Dog – a symbol of loyalty, openness, dependability and fidelity
More here: http://www.historyofpainters.com/symbol.htm
Animal Characteristics & Meaning in Native American Art (http://www.legendsofamerica.com/na-totems.html)
Compare these with the above meanings. Renaissance art was heavily religion. Native American symbolism, on the other hand, was animalistic in nature, in according with their type of faith.
alligator – maternal, revenge oriented, quickness, aggression, and basic survival instincts
ant – group minded, determination, patient, active and industrious
anteater – lethargy, curiosity, nosiness
antelope – active, agile, jumpiness, and willing to sacrifice
armadillo – safety oriented, grounded, and has boundaries
badger – courage, aggressive, healer, having problems relating to others, and energy conduit
bat – rebirth, longevity, secrecy, initiation, good listener, and long life
bear – industrious, instinctive, good listener, and long life
beaver – determined, strong-willed, builder, overseer, and protector
bee – organized, industrial, productive, wise, community, celebration, fertility, defensiveness, obsessive nature, and enjoys life
boar/pig – a very powerful totem – prosperity, spiritual strenth, organized, self-reliant, fearless
buffalo – sacredness, life great strength, abundance, gratitude
bull – insight into the past, fertility, rushing into things without proper preparation
butterfly – metamorphosis, transformation, balance, grace, ability to accept change
camel – survival, positive accomplishments
caribou – traveler, mobility, preference to be nomadic, adaptability to adversity
cat – guardianship, detachment, sensuality, mystery, magic and independence
cheetah – swiftness, insight, focus
cougar – leadership, loyalty, courage, taking responsibility, foresight
cow – swift, insightful and focused
coyote – trickster, intelligence, stealth, wisdom and folley, guile and innocence
cobra – swift and decisive
crab – good luck, protection and success
crane – solitude, justice, longevity, independent, intelligent, and vigilant
crocodile – ensuring your emotions are displayed accurately/appropriately
crow – justice, shape shifting, change, creativity, spiritual strength, energy, community sharing and balance
deer – compassion, peace, intellectual, gentle, caring, kind, subltety, gracefulness, femininity, gentleness, innocence and seller of adventure
dog – noble, faithful, loyal, teaching, protection and guidance
dolphin – kind, salvation, wisdom, happiness, playfulness, prudent, capable of deep emotion and happy
dove – cross-world communication, spirit messenger, peace, gentleness, love
dragon – longevity, richness, prosperity, infinity, wisdom, power and fiery
dragonfly – flighty and carefree, strong imagination, higher aspirations
duck – water energy, helper of seers, can clearly see/deal with emotions
eagle – divine spirit, sacrifice, connection to creator, intelligence, renewal, courage, illumination of spirit, healing, creation, freedom and risk-taker
elephant – strength, power, affection, loyalty, royalty and wisdom
elk – strength and agility, pride, majestic, independence, purification, strength and nobility
falcon – new beginnings, adventure, passionate and leadership
fish – graceful, slyness, open-minded, quick to change one’s mind
flamingo – heart healing, psychic, people person, flirtatious
fox – cunning, agility, quick-witted, diplomacy, wildness, feminine magic of camouflage, shape-shifting and invisibility
frog – water energy, cleansing, rebirth, sensitivity, medicine, hidden beauty, peace, adaptability, poor character judgement and power
gazelle – aggressive
giraffe – communication, intuition, attaining the unreachable, seeing the future
goat – surefootedness, stubbornness, independence, diligence, lack of foresight
goose – self-demanding, reliable, prudent, rigid, vigilance, parenthood and productive
gorilla – family-oriented, intelligence, strength, environmental protector, keeps peace through aggression
grasshopper – good luck, abundance, forward, progressive
grouse – personal power, enlightenment
hawk – messenger, intuition, victory, healing, nobility, recollection, cleansing, visionary power and guardianship
heron/egret – aggressive, self-determined, self-reliant, multi-tasking, balanced
hippopotamus – power, creation, imagination, healing
horse – freedom, stamina, mobility, the land, travel, power and freedom
hummingbird – messenger, timelessness, healing and warrior
jaguar – chaos, shape-shifter, aggressiveness, power
kangaroo – forward, balance, creative, stamina
lion – family, strength, energy, courage, guardian and protector
lizard – conservation, vision, self-protection, hidden defenses
llama – comforting to others, secure
lynx – keeper of secrets, guardian, searching
mole – sensitivity, guidance, searching
monkey – ability to change the environment, health, success
moose – headstrong, longevity, steadfastness and wisdom
mouse – scrutiny, order, organizer and eye for details
octopus – intelligence, camouflage, nocturnal
opossum – diversion, strategist and deceiver
ostrich – grounded, practical
otter – playful, friendly, dynamic, joy, helpfulness and sharing
owl – deception, clairvoyance, insight, messenger
ox – sacrifice, chastity and self-denial
panther – protection, hidden emotions, introspection, caution, careful decision
parrot – communication, beauty, guide for wisdom, mockery, thinking before speaking
peacock – immortality, dignity and self-confidence
pelican – resilient, unselfish, rising above
penguin – self-discipline, grace, self-confidence, spiritual
porcupine – innocence, companionship and trust
prairie dog – swiftness, industrious, constructive, preparedness
puma – companion on journeys to other worlds, grace, silent power
quail – group-work, team play, creator of harmony and group tolerance, protectiveness (especially toward children)
rabbit – fear, timidity, nervousness, humility, rebirth
raccoon – curiousity and cleanliness
ram – stoic, sensitive, persevering, curious, imaginative
rat – fertility, stealth, scavenging, intelligence, enjoys luxury
raven – introspection, courage, self-knowledge, magic
rhinoceros – wisdom, solitary, insightful, solid
roadrunner – mental agility, speed, opportunistic
Rooster – Vanity, likes to be showered with gifts and attention, early riser, settling for nothing less than the best
Salmon – Proud, intense, confident, wisdom, inspiration
Scorpion – Transforming, strong, inspiring, chaotic, passionate
Seagull – Versatility, loud, easy-going nature, creativity, laziness
Seahorse – Confidence and grace
Seal – Love, longing, dilemma, active imagination, creativity
Shark – Hunter, survival, and adaptability
Skunk – Reputation, presence, and strength
Snail – Protective, aware, solitary.
Snake – Impulsive, shrewdness, rebirth, transformation, initiation, and wisdom
Spider – Balance, wisdom, creativity, communication
Squirrel – Planner and gatherer
Stag – Lord of the forest, masculine power of regeneration, signs.
Swan – Grace, balance and innocence, soul, love, beauty, of the self
Tiger – Strength, valor, power, and energy
Toad – Inner strength, luck, self-examination
Turkey – Generosity, life-giver, and sharer
Turtle – Nurturer, shy, and protecting
Unicorn – Purity, innocence, dreamer, personal power, gentle
Weasel – Strength, energy, ingenuity and stealth
Whale – Wisdom, provider, intelligence, and kindness.
Wolf – Loyalty, perseverance, success, intuition, and spirit
Woodpecker – Sensitive, protective, and devotion
Zebra – Agility and individuality