Symbolism in Art

Artists have long used symbols to convey a message, an idea, an emotion, a story etc with their creations. The message behind a painting is not always obvious to all who view it, especially if it’s a very old masterpiece that was created with symbols that may very well have been easily understood by people from the past but not by the younger generations of today. Sometimes the meaning behind a work of art is confused if not totally lost depending on the cultural orientation of the person looking at it. 

Color symbolism for one has changed over time. Culture is also a factor in how color symbolism is interpreted. Animal symbols are also seen differently by different people. Art can be interpreted in any way we choose to. That is the beauty in it. It can be anything we want it to be, but for people who are fascinated with it for all the stories it represents, the key to understanding any particular art piece would be to learn about the artist, the period in history when it was created, the cultural setting and the meaning of the art symbols at the time.   


The apple is a popular subject in many works of art, both classical and modern. In the Christian tradition, it is often depicted as the fruit of the forbidden tree which Adam and Eve ate after being tempted by the serpent. For today’s technology-driven generation however the apple symbolizes a totally different proposition.  
 Apple Art
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Lotus Flower

Without knowing what the lotus flower means in Hinduism, any artistic depiction of the Goddess Lakshmi will not have any deep significance to anyone looking at it. The lotus flower symbolizes how wise and truly enlightened Lakshmi is, remaining pure and unspoilt despite being the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, just like the lotus flower which remains beautiful and untouched by the murky waters from which it emerged.
Lotus Flower in Art 
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 Lotus Flower in Art

The Color Blue

Why do artists almost always portray the Virgin Mary wearing blue? The color blue traditionally symbolizes truth and clarity, apart from being the color of the sky which symbolizes heaven, where she belongs being the Mother of God.  
  Virgin Mary Blue


Lions are symbolic of monarchs in the Hebrew Bible and throughout the Ancient Near East. The painting tells of the story of Daniel who was thrown into the lions’ den for continuing to pray to his God YHVH despite King Darius’ decree that for 30 days no one was to pray to any god or man except to him. The next day Daniel emerged unharmed. The lions here represent the empires and nations of the world, surrounding Israel.  
Lion in art 

The Triangle 

Religious symbolism looks at the triangle as the trinity. In pagan symbolism a triangle pointing upwards represents a sword or fire (masculinity), while a triangle pointing downwards represents the chalice or water (femininity). 
Triangle in Art
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Related Categories: Animals    Color Symbolism   


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