Throughout the ages, love has always been a popular theme in all forms of art, ranging from writings to sculptures, in paintings and performance and beyond. In this post, we’ll be looking at examples of love in paintings. In just about any time period, whether it be early AD or the high renaissance, and any region, Western or Asian, themes of love can be found in paintings. In the renaissance, it was common to paint scenes that captured moments of love found in poems or mythological stories, such as the various Greek myths or the Bible. Let’s examine a few examples of such symbols.
One of the common symbols of love found in Greek paintings is the Greek goddess, Aphrodite (Roman Venus). Venus is the goddess of love, beauty, sex, and fertility, and this is an obvious example of this theme. Depictions of Venus in paintings can be found early on in history. Once such early example can be seen in this painting “Venus on Seashell”, from the Casa di Venus in Pompeii, in AD 79.
Venus was also often found in Titian’s paintings, an artist famous for his lack of lines. One of his more famous paintings of Venus would be “Venus of Urvino” (1538),
and oil painting depicting a nude Venus lounging on a sofa. Titian’s use of Venus inspired many future painters to follow suit, such as Edouard Manet, who painted “Olympia” in 1863.
Venus isn’t the only Greek/Roman god used in this way. Eros (Roman Cupid), the god of desire, attraction, and affection, is also commonly found in paintings about love. In 1889, William Adolphe Bouguereau completed his painting “Cupid and Psyche as Children”.
This was in reference to the mythological story about Cupid and Psyche’s loves, their struggles, and ultimate marriage.
Kisses were another common symbol of love, for obvious reasons. Perhaps one of the most well-known instances of a kiss in painting (and one of my personal favorites) can be seen in Gustav Klimpt’s “The Kiss” (1907, oil painting).
This was a painting he drew based on himself and his girlfriend at the time. I believe it to be on the most popular paintings about love, as it can be seen hanging in many houses around the world. The painting uses many bright colors, flowers, etc, and really fills one with that fuzzy feeling of being in love.Just as Klimpt did in “The Kiss”, many painters throughout time have painted their lovers as a way to embrace the theme of love. This trend can be seen around the world. In 1767 Japan, Suzuki Harunobu completed “Lovers in the Snow Under an Umbrella” a Nishiki-e Woodblock print.
This painting depicted a couple sharing an umbrella, in a certain pose called Aiaigasa, which is symbolic of love and intimacy in Japan. Another random example can be found in the west, in Picasso’s “Weeping Woman” (1936). This painting depicted one of Picasso’s many mistresses, Dora Maar. As she was his mistress for quite some time (1936-1944), he painted her many times, but this is probably his most famous rendition. To Picasso, Dora was always seen as a weeping woman, and he painted her in tortured forms such as this, not from “sadism and not from pleasure, but from obeying a vision that was forced on himself.”
love is portrayed in so many different forms today, movies, plays, games, stories in books, drama, art, and the list goes on. it just proves how we humans just can’t live without some kind of form of love.
Masks always have given me the heebie jeebies. The idea of hiding something..ew. this one will have a different twist and will focus on a artist who was obsessed with masks. Lets see how it goes.
Masks have been around for ages, with practical uses ranging from protection and disguise, to enhancing performances and entertainment. They were often used on holidays, during masquerades and carnivals as well. Masks are therefore commonly a symbol of the reckless fun that can be had during such events. But for one painter in the late 1800’s, masks held a special significance.
James Ensor is a Belgian painter, born to an English father and a French-Belgian mother in 1860. In all his 89 years, he almost never once left his hometown of Ostend, Belgium. Ostend was a port city, which one could reach by ferry from England. The town had a bloody history during the Eighty Years’ War, but later became a tourist haven due to its convenient location and nice scenery. This bit of town history had an obvious influence on Ensor’s work, which often included skulls/skeletons, and masks. Bones from the war could often be found around the town during his childhood.
He was also known to have a large collection of masks collected during the town’s frequent carnivals and masquerades. Ensor was a very sensitive and narcissistic man. He would remain at home in his room, creating paintings and sending them off to Salons, or competitions, usually receiving harsh criticism, as most didn’t appreciate his art at the time. In 1887, he received one such rejection. During the same year, his father and grandmother died. It is from this time that we see Ensor painting far more masks and skeletons, in order reflect his anger and feelings regarding loss and rejection. It was here that masks began to become a deeper symbol in Ensor’s paintings. Masks were commonly used in art as a way to disguise or conceal the wearer. However, Ensor’s masks gathered all of the negative qualities of the people there were intended to conceal. They were usually quite grotesque in design, and were maybe meant to be a physical version of the deformed human soul beneath the mask, or the perceived lack of a soul by Ensor. This reflected Ensor’s view of humanity, which he saw as weak and cruel, and his bitter encounters he had with his family and critics. One great example in which we can see this is “Masks Confronting Death” (1888).
This painting is depicted with subtle pale colors with a hint of vivid red and green sneaking in the picture. The morbid subject has a somewhat morbid feeling but at the same time provides a weirdly calming feeling. Another interesting example is his “Self Portrait with Masks” (1889).
This painting features a man in the painting, wearing a red hat. It is theorized that the man in the painting is actually Ensor wearing a mask of famous Spanish painter Rubens, who was a competitor to Ensor, and far more successful, famous, and wealthy. It wasn’t only paintings in which Ensor expressed himself with these masks and skeleton symbols, however: At the same time as working on his programmatic painting, Ensor took his revenge for the attacks directed at him, with a series of virulent panels, engravings and drawings denouncing the injustices of his time as well as expressing his own petty concerns. The viciousness and lack of constraint of these works were unequalled in these final years of the century. – Musée d’Orsay
So, hope that interested you.
Unicorn. the beautiful magical creature.
tonight I decided to write about the symbolism of the magical creature as a twist..
The Unicorn, the rare example of a mythological creature, which is thought to be beneficial in most cultures, has been used as a symbol for many occasions from even dating back to the Greek mythology. The Unicorn was widely used throughout Europe for both pagan sources and religious sources during the renaissance period. The use of the unicorn symbol for religious purposes in art started spreading during the middle ages. The Unicorn often is thought to represent Christ due to the legend. In the ledged the unicorn flew down to the virgin’s side and placed it’s head upon the virgins thigh. But when others came and tried to capture the unicorn, the prideful creature would kill the capturer or die because of it’s own shame. Thus only a form pure as the virgin could attract the unicorn. The connection to the virgin often linked the Unicorn to being Christ himself. Leading to the Unicorn Iconography in religious paintings as the Incarnation, and the death of the unicorn as the Passion of Christ.
An article by the BBC news published a theory about the Mona Lisa being a pregnant woman or a woman whom just gave birth to a child. The theory comes from when the National Research council of Canada was provided with the rare opportunity to examine the painting. The researchers found a gauze dress under the top layer of painting, a gauze dress that was typical from the female to wear during childbirth or when the woman is pregnant. Raphael’s painting of the Young Woman with Unicorn, the unicorn being the symbol of Christ, Perhaps the portrait is referring the woman as the virgin. Since Da Vinci and Raphael knew each other while both were living and learning together in Florence around the same timw period.. Perhaps Da Vinci had secretly told Raphael the true meaning behind the painting.
Even though Unicorns as a symbol have been used many times since the Middle Ages, the unicorn as a symbol was a depicted as a full-grown unicorn. The unique aspect of the portrait of the Young Woman with the Unicorn is that the painting by Raphael uses a baby unicorn while other painters used fool grown Unicorns. A series of Tapestries known as “La dame à la licorne” are made out of a series of six. The tapestries were created 1495 to 1505 in the south of Netherlands. The story dedicated behind this particular Tapestries are unknown, but art historians are convinced to the theory on which the each tapestry are dedicated to the five senses and the last tapestry, “A mon seul désir” to love or understanding humans poses. The tapestry use vivid and vibrant color, decorated with carefully placed botanical essence. The artist whom designed the tapestry uses a full-grown unicorn with stunning composition. Compared to the tapestry, The portrait of the Young Woman with the Unicorn is depicted in a drastically different way. Perhaps because of the mythical creature’s size, the unicorns in traditional art settings are shown more or less the same size of a normal horse. To the contraire of the norm of painting, Raphael draws the unicorn the size of a small dog. One reason for the size was because some scholars assumed there are pendimiento’s under the part of the unicorn, which shows how Raphael may have in fact drawn a dog, which represents loyalty a perfect subject for a wedding.
Since it’s close to valentines day I feel like I should write something romantic..ish.
Maybe about some lovely jewelry.
So lets just jump right in to the subject.
Over the centuries, designs of death in jewelry (mourning jewelry) have been constantly evolving. In the Western world, seeing symbols of death combined with jewelry began in the 1500s. At this time, Martin Luther and the Protestant reformation introduced challenges to ecclesiastical belief as well as destabilization England and other parts of Europe. This enhanced the artistic value of English jewels through the Huguenot emigration, and the goldsmith knowledge that these immigrants took with them. It was around this time that memento mori were being introduced into jewelry design. Presenting these symbols of death melded with fashion only amplified the message that mortality is temporary, time is fleeting, and one must “seize the day”.
How they were used as fashion depended on the wearer, and this changed over time, from a literal sign of death (of a recently passed love one) in early days, to more of a symbol of self-awareness by the time of the Enlightenment. These items acted as material substitutes for dead loved ones, physical reminders meant to either literally or figuratively keep the dead in the living world. Memento mori in jewelry came sometimes in obvious forms, such as skulls or skeletons found on the jewelry. However, it was also common to see pieces with locks of hair from dead loved ones, or jewelry made primarily of hair. Many memento mori jewelry pieces also had Latin reminders of death etched into the metal. For example, “Tempus Fugit” (Time is Fleeting) was often inscribed on the inside of rings. There are many examples we can look at more closely. This Skeleton Pendent found in Torre Abbey (1550) is one such piece.
This pendant is a good representative of the basis of what mourning jewelry would become. It has a skeleton depicted in a grave, decorated with medieval and Celtic patterns. The skeleton doesn’t look to the heaven, or towards the viewer, but instead looks north. This piece shows the personal sentimentality of life and death. Another great piece is JC Vuolf’s Skull Watch from 1665.
This is in the shape of a skull, which opened on a hinge to reveal the watch face within the head. It was intended to be worn on a chain. The skull and watch are two popular vanitas reminders of the passage of time, and it is fitting that the two are combined into one. The watch is inscribed with Latin which translates to “Life is fleeting, look down upon a fallen thing, look upon eternity, the hour of death is uncertain”
Maybe you can get something nice for your partner this valentines day and to those who are strong and independent, just grab yourself some jewelry and celebrate the death of St. Valentine. (maybe not with mourning jewelry)
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?
Mirrors have been an obsession of humans for thousands of years, and this is made obvious in Western art, which uses the mirror both as a tool and a symbol.
The use of mirrors as vanitas symbols dates back to Greek mythology. The myth of Medusa, for example, shows the mirror being the key to defeating Medusa, who was the only mortal of the three gorgons. Another popular Greek example would be in the myth of Narcissus, by Ovid, in which we see Narcissus fall in love with his own reflection to a point where he is unable to leave the image, and wastes away to death beside the water. A popular depiction of this myth is seen in Carvaggio’s “Narcissus”,an oil painting done in 1599.
The painting reminds us that the reflection is only of Narcissus’ temporary beauty, which was only so because his vanity was his death. Another painting featuring a mirror is Clara Peeter’s “Vanitas”, a still life painted in 1610, which is a portrait of a woman sitting in front of a mirror.
Instead of more obvious symbols like skulls, a mirror was used to emphasize mortality. There are also many other symbols scattered throughout this painting, such as a dead, drooping flower, a pocket watch, and jewelry. These are all there to reflect the uselessness of material goods that we will leave behind when we die, and to remind us of the transitory nature of life. Mirrors are commonly seen as tools and symbols in other paintings as well, though may not always directly be vanitas. Jan van eyck’s 1433 oil painting “Arnolfini Portrait” is a great example of this.
It is a portrait of Italian merchant Giovanni Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, and was thought to be a wedding gift. It is considered to be one of the most original and complex paintings in Western art not only for its beauty, but also its complex iconography and orthogonal perspective. The artist makes clever use of a mirror to expand the space of the room, and one is able to see the reflection of the couple and the priest, giving the painting a unique feeling of immersion. The mirror itself is framed with ten images depicting the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The mirror also symbolizes the eye of God, watching over the wedding vows. A spotless mirror such as this one can also be a symbol of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception and purity.
So maybe the next time you see a mirror be aware or the wicked powers it contains.