Symbolism in Visual Images

When one chooses to cross the boundary between visual symbolism (pictures), and textual symbolism, there are a few factors that should be noted. As the old adage goes "a picture is worth a thousand words." Visual symbolism can be complex, because often times there much more going on in the image than in, say, a given paragraph.

Issues of size, perspective, location, and shading all play roles in the message a viewer derives from an image. Color is a major part of pictures too, serving to layer meaning on top of meaning. For example, in St. George Fighting the Dragon we can see a green dragon situated below and in front of George, who is wearing gray armor, astride a white horse. In the background we can see a woman in red and white with folded hands, presumably in prayer, etc...
Since George occupies a central location in the picture, and is larger than the other objects, it can be assumed that he is the parametric center of the painting, with all the other symbols interacting with and through him.

Symbolism is not merely a literary device, but occurs in all art forms. Below are several paintings which have been converted to imagemaps, and certain items in the paintings have been hyperlinked to entries in the symbolism dictionary.


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The OnLine Symbolism Dictionary is maintained by Geoff Brown, Jamie Smith, and Dr. Eric Rabkin, of the University of Michigan.