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The Hidden Symbolic Meaning of Books in Western painting

From the earliest period of Christian history the clergy realized the value of images in keeping sinners on the road to heaven.  Throughout the Christian history the Church commissioned sacred images that acted as moral instruction to  untaught peasants who clamored for spiritual enlightenment of the holy scriptures. The religious images, carvings and stone work served as a constant reminder of the hellish tortures that awaited backsliders and sinners if they strayed from Gods word and church law.

The iconographical interpretation of Books in Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance Painting

Byzantine, Gothic and Early Renaissance paintings are rich in philosophical and Christian symbolism regarding Books.

The open book - signifies education, knowledge and wisdom. Apostles and Saints are often shown with open books. The Virgin Mary is frequently shown holding an open book, symbolic of her submission to Gods Holy Law.


The open heart-shaped book - Saint Augustine (354-430) was regularly depicted sitting at his desk with an open heart-shaped book, symbolic of his passion for truth and reverence for the Word of God, the ultimate source of light and truth.


The closed book - symbolizes incomplete knowledge. May also indicate the presence of heretics and rejection of Gods Holy Law in favor of heretical doctrines. A closed book also indicates the Kingdome of Heaven is closed to non-believers.


The book with a cross on the cover  - symbolizes the word of God, Gods Devine Law, Church Law and Papal authority. The Apostles are frequently depicted holding a book representing the New Testament.

Open book with pages torn out, strewn about- symbolizes rejection of knowledge, reason, honor and morality, or a rejection of faith and church authority.

 
   
 

 

 

 

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