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“All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril." - Oscar Wilde 
Signs and Symbols in Art

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


Allegory of Christianity c.1515 by Jan Provoost

An old bearded man holding keys, a snake in an apple tree, a beautiful white lamb, a colorful peacock,  a hovering white dove, a clever crow, a robin, a mirror—all are charmingly decorative to the average viewer but for painters of the Gothic, Early Renaissance and High Renaissance  Northern Renaissance period, 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.



Byzantine
Gothic  Northern Renaissance and Renaissance Art are rich in philosophical and Christian symbolism.William H. Hunt once 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."  Narrative paintings, with their layer upon layers of readily understood symbolic meaning, provided  instruction to the uneducated commoners that yearned for scriptural understanding.   Paintings were used as guides that helped  illuminate the divine mysteries of  Church doctrine. Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance Art are rich in philosophical and Christian symbolism.  Narrative paintings, with their layer upon layers of readily understood symbolic meaning, provided  instruction to the uneducated commoners that yearned for scriptural understanding.   Paintings were used as guides that helped  illuminate the divine mysteries of  Church doctrine.

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

The  Serpent

Good Shepherd

Boats

Adam and Eve

Key

Wheat

Mythological Creatures

Weapons

Virgin Mary

Christ

The Four Evangelists

The Anchor

The Apostles

Satan

Chalice

The Cross

Architectural Elements

Trees

Sin

Fruit

Flowers

The Saints

Colors

Book

Birds

Angels

Insects

Fish

Spider

Animals

Household Object

Clothing and Accessories

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