Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art

By James Hall; Chris Puleston | Go to book overview

6. Plants

Acanthus. The distinguishing feature of the Corinthian capital; given more varied treatment in Byzantine capitals [i : Constantinople, 6th cent., with Justinian's monogram]. The scroll forms — a continuous curving stem with branching spirals — is found on ceilings of Italian churches (Rome and Ravenna, 5th-13th cents.), where it symbolizes heaven. The Tree of Jesse is often based on the acanthus.

Almond. Symbol of spring, from its early blossoming. A Christian symbol of divine favour, from the flowering of Aaron's rod. 1 The rod of Joseph, husband of the Virgin, also flowered as a mark of divine favour, whence the almond became a symbol of the Virgin's purity. For the Chinese it symbolizes feminine beauty and fortitude in grief [ii]. See also MANDORLA.

Anemone. Scarlet and purple varieties are common in the Near East [iii]. It is an ancient symbol of death and sorrow from the Greek myth of the dying Adonis from whose spilled blood anemones sprouted. 2 They sprouted likewise from the blood of Christ on Calvary, according to a medieval tradition, and hence appear in paintings of the Crucifixion and of the Virgin of Sorrows.

Apple. In Christian art, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, plucked by Eve [iv: French, 12th cent.], hence a symbol of the Fall; held by the infant Christ it alludes to the doctrine of Redemption (see VIRGIN MARY). In Greek myth the apple of discord was thrown into the banquet of the gods and later awarded by Paris to APHRODITE/VENUS whose attribute it is; also of her attendants the THREE GRACES. The golden apples of the Hesperides symbolize immortality, and are an attribute of HERCULES. In China wild apple blossom denotes female beauty.

Bamboo (Ch. chu; Jap. sho). Bamboo painting first flourished as a genre in Northern Sung art, though its origin is much earlier [v]. Pliant yet strong it symbolized reliability, courage in adversity, good breeding and similar virtues; also longevity, being evergreen. With the PINE and PLUM blossom it forms a very common group on Chinese ceramics and Japanese lacquer known as the THREE FRIENDS, standing for good fortune and longevity. See also HSI WANG MU.

Bread. The symbol of Christ's body. Bread and wine denote the Eucharist. They are seen together in VANITAS still-life paintings, especially north European. Bread, symbolizing spiritual refreshment, was brought to desert hermits by a bird, usually a raven.

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Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements *
  • How to Use This Book *
  • About Symbols in Art ix
  • The Dictionary 1
  • 1 - Abstract Signs 1
  • 2 - Animals 8
  • 3 - Artefacts 54
  • 4 - Earth and Sky 98
  • 5 - Human Body and Dress 113
  • 6 - Plants 142
  • Collectives 163
  • Appendix - The Transcription of Chinese 216
  • Notes and References 217
  • Bibliography 222
  • Chronological Tables 225
  • Index 234
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