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Symbols in Art (Art Essentials)

Matthew Wilson


A reference guide to fifty of the most frequently occurring symbols in global art history

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The understanding of symbols – be they animals, artefacts, plants, shapes or gestures – is crucial to the appreciation of art. This authoritative guide unravels over fifty of the most common and intriguing visual symbols from across the globe from 2300 BCE to the present day. While symbols cross dialects and national boundaries, their meanings can vary and are often complex and culturally specific, which is why this lively, clearly written and well researched introduction is so invaluable. Accessible and absorbing, the book’s broad approach deftly demonstrates how the symbols used by artists have evolved over thousands of years.

Matthew Wilson explores symbolism’s subtle implications and overt and covert meanings, providing an indispensable tool for interpretation. A reference section includes suggestions for further reading and a glossary of art and historical terms.

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'Masterly … the perfect introduction to a subject that can only heighten the general appreciation of art'
Christopher Lloyd, former Surveyor of The Queen’s Pictures

Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback

Size: 21.6 x 13.8 cm

Extent: 176 pp

Illustrations: 100

Publication date: 17 September 2020

ISBN: 9780500295748

Contents List

IntroductionLand and Sky: Water; Mountain; Clouds; Rainbow; Lightning; Moon; Sun; Fire • Plants: Carnation; Cypress; Laurel; Lily; Lotus; Palm; Grapevine; Poppy; Sunflower • Birds: Dove; Eagle; Owl; Peacock; Phoenix; Falcon; Crane • Beasts: Cat; Deer/Stag; Dog; Fish; Lion; Monkey; Snake; Horse; Dragon • Bodies: Skeleton; Skull; Foot; Pose; Hand gestures; Blood; Eye; Angel; Halo • Possessions: Shell; Bow and arrow; Crown; Mask; Scales; Sword; Trumpet; Timepiece; Mirror

About the Author

Matt Wilson is an art historian, educator and writer, who contributes to numerous publications. He is an examination specialist in the history of art.