The History of Art And The Curious Lives of Famous Painters

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The Symbolic Meaning of  Bells in Gothic, Byzantine, Northern Renaissance and Italian Renaissance Painting

  For painters of the Gothic, Italian Renaissance and Northern Renaissance eras, symbols were part of a rich visual language. In a culture of limited literacy symbolic imagery was vital in keeping believers on the path to heaven. The bell was an essential part of mediaeval iconography. According to author Gustavus George Zerffi "The deep but simple doctrines of Christ were at first hidden in symbols, types, allegories and emblems. In a Symbol we try to express a general idea by a special outward sign, totally heterogeneous in form to the meaning. Geometrical figures, plants, and animals, furnish the elements of symbolism. In the Allegory the artist represents congruities, traces connections, unites analogies and separates differences.  Imagination has in allegories an inexhaustible field for composition. Types are signs, arbitrarily interpreted as meaning something, which they may or may not mean."

Bells symbolize clarity and transparency.

In mediavel days the bell was a symbol of virginity, According to author and historian Thomas Inman, M.D."maidens wore them until marriage. The origin of this custom was the desire that every maiden should have at her marriage, or sale, that which is spoken of in the Pentateuch as "the token of virginity." It was supposed that this membrane, technically called "the hymen" might be broken by too long a stride in walking or running, or by clambering over a stile or wall. To prevent such a catastrophe, a light chain or cord was worn, under or over the dress, at the level of the knees or just above. Its length only permitted a short step and a mincing gait. Slight bells were used as a sort of ornament, and when the bearer was walking their tinkling was a sort of proclamation that the lady who bore them was in the market as a virgin. After "the flower" had been plucked, the bells were no longer of use."

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

The  Serpent

Good Shepherd


Adam and Eve




Virgin Mary



The Anchor

The Apostles



Sun and Moon



The Cross

Architectural Elements



The Saints









Household Object

Clothing and Accessories


Important Words, People, Phrases, Characteristics related to the Northern Renaissance Art Movement -  allegorical painting,  rebirth, invention of oil painting,   Hieronymus Bosch, Limbourg Brothers, Desiderius Erasmus,  Robert Campin, Jan Van Eyck, Jean Fouquet, Albrecht Dürer, Johannes Gutenberg, Johann Reuchlin, Martin Luther, rise of the merchant class, world landscape,  Low Countries, Protestant Reformation, Calvinisim, glazing, impasto, scriptorium, illuminator, invention of the printing press, woodcuts, engravings, Antwerp School, Guild of Saint Luke, commerce, Flemish School, Northern Europe, Flanders, Bruges, renewed interest in classical learning,  mythological scenes, genre painting, landscapes, portraits, moralizing overtones, human vices, lust, paradise, spirituality, piousness, living a simple life, reformHuman Reasoning,  tradesmen at work, idyllic scenes of peasantsplaying games, feasting,  linear perspective, \Heliocentric Theory, humour, satire,  spiritually significant, illuminated manuscriptidealized biblical themes, scriptorium, emotion, illuminator,  iconoclast, Age of Discovery, Virgin and Child, axonometric drawing, curiosity about the natural world,  realistic use of colours and lightOld Testament stories, Gospel parables, The Blackdeath,  Christian symbolism

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A Manual of the Historical Development of Art Pre-Historic--Ancient--Classic--Early Christian; with Special Reference to Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, and Ornamentation by G. G. (Gustavus George) Zerffi