Symbols and Allegories in Art (Guide to Imagery Series)

by Matthilde Battistini

From antiquity, when the gods and goddesses were commonly featured in works of art, through to the 20th century, when Surrealists drew on archetypes from the unconscious, artists have embedded symbols in their works. The goal of this sixth volume of the Getty’s superb Guide to Imagery series is to provide contemporary readers and museum visitors with the tools to read the hidden meanings in works of art. The book does not disappoint, following a winning formula to satisfying results. Like its predecessors, the book lushly reproduces masterworks and breaks them down into their component parts, explaining the meanings attached to each in helpful marginal text. This latest volume is divided thematically into four sections featuring symbols related to time, man, space (earth and sky), and allegories or moral lessons. Readers will learn, for instance, that night, the primordial mother of the cosmos, was often portrayed in ancient art as a woman wrapped in a black veil, whereas day or noon was often represented in Renaissance art as a strong, virile man evoking the full manifestation of the sun’s energy. Each entry in the book contains a main reference image in which details of the symbol or allegory being analyzed are called out for discussion. In the margin, for quick access by the reader, is a summary of the essential characteristics of the symbol in question, the derivation of its name, and the religious tradition from which it springs.