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The Hidden  Symbolism  of Sin in Western 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. The middle ages were marked by brutality and negativity. Plague decimated entire villages, territorial armies went on rampages, looting and massacring, cruelty to the children and the animals was almost routine. Medieval artist Hieronymus Bosch's use of Christian symbolism in his fantastical paintings seemed disturbing, shocking and sometimes even sacrilegious.  Narrative paintings, with their layer upon layer of vivid symbolism, provided instruction to the uneducated peasants who craved moral guidance. According to religious scholar, A.E.J. Rawlinson, "The Christian ideal is not abstinence, but temperance. A Christian will be temperate, for example, in sleep, food, alcohol, and tobacco. Intemperance means slavery to a habit, the loss of spiritual self- mastery, whereby the whole character is enervated, and efficiency, both physical and moral, is impaired. “All things are lawful,” as S. Paul says, but a Christian is not to allow himself to be brought "under the power of any.” He is meant to live hard and to live clean."  Paintings throughout Western history have been used as guides in illuminating the divine mysteries of Gods Holy Word.


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

Symbolic Representations of Sin in Art

The ape symbolizes a lustful soul filled with sinful thoughts.

Mussel and clam shells – symbolical of  infidelity and lustful thoughts.


Grapes signify lewdness and lustful thoughts.

Beer symbolizes lustful ways, sexual folly, drunkenness, gluttony,  and stupidity.

The Crow is a symbol of  adultery and or wicked thoughts when shown next to married couple, sometimes perched near the bed chamber or nesting on a small pillow in the background. The Crow also signifies the devils henchmen are close at hand when portrayed next to a holy figure.  If the Crow is carrying a silver coin, silver ring or sliver medal it symbolizes Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles and betrayer of Christ.

An Osprey on the wing signified the devils henchmen are close at hand.  A perched Osprey symbolizes Satan's vigilance in the hunt for backsliders and the easily corrupted.

snake - symbolizes Satan; the presence of evil, fall of man



The Meaning of Sacred Symbols in Paintings. Most prominently featured  symbols and their meaning:

The  Serpent

Good Shepherd

Boats

Trees

Sin

Adam and Eve

Key

Wheat

Mythological Creatures

Weapons

Virgin Mary

Christ

The Anchor

The Apostles

Satan

Chalice

The Cross

Architectural Elements

Fruit

Flowers

The Saints

Colors

Book

Birds

Angels

Insects

Fish

Spider

Animals

The Four Evangelists

Household Object

Clothing and Accessories

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