The History of Art And The Curious Lives of Famous Painters
Meaning of a Key
Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance Painting
The key symbol doesn't have a single simple meaning. The meaning changes based upon the era, country and even the painter. From the earliest period of Christian history the church fathers realized the value of religious images in helping to keep sinners on the road to
salvation. William H. Hunt wrote "When language was not transcendental enough to complete the meaning of a revelation, symbols were relied upon for heavenly teaching, and familiar images, chosen from the known, were made to mirror the unknown spiritual truth."
The Church commissioned artisans and craftspeople to create religious imagery for
churches and state building. These sacred images acted as moral instruction and spiritual comfort to illiterate peasants. The divine artworks served as a constant reminder of the heavenly rewards that awaited honest and righous peeople, Alterntivley they also served as warning of the hellish tortures that awaited backsliders and sinners if they strayed from Gods word and church law.
Saint Peter holding the keys to heaven. Jesus gave a important sovereignty to Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."Mattew 16:19
Crossed keys represent Peter's confession and our Lord's reward to him of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
Key near a bowl of fruit or cup symbolizes corruption of the soul or a tendency towards lustful thoughts. If the key is depicted next to a bowl of apples/pomegranates or a single
apple this is representative of the fall of man. The artist is referencing the apple in Genesis.
Key in a lock- symbolizes acceptance of Jesus Christ and eternal salvation, immortality."I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in
heaven." -- Matthew 16:19
Key lying beside a lock- symbol of free will
Key lying on the floor - symbol of those who have surrendered to the fatal sin of greed and corruption.
A bird with a key in it's beak - several meaning but most often symbolizes salvation.
Key peeking out beneath a book - symbol of a sinner or one who has fallen in league with the devil. A doer of depraved and reckless acts.
Key worn around the neck - represents lost love, unrequited love and death of a lover
Old bearded man holding a key - represents Peter the Apostle and the key symbolizes the Key to the Kingdom of heaven.
Key on a pillow symbolizes marital faith.
Figure holding a key - Saint Peter is often depicted holding a key or keys signifies holy, divine, sacred personage; represents the sanctified authority of the papacy and the Church's power to admit people into heaven.
The Meaning of Sacred Symbols in Paintings. Most prominently featured symbols and their meaning:
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