Research point: Iconography of still life paintings

These are a few of the symbols that have been included in still life paintings, they have been taken from Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (Revised 2nd edition) Colorado: Westview Press

  • Bird – Symbol of the soul in ancient Egypt, features in this sense in still life
  • Hour glass, Clock or Candle – allude to the passing of time
  • Skull – Momento mori reminding us that we must die
  • Cup, Pitcher or Bowl – emptiness
  • Crown, Sceptre, Jewels, Purse or Coins – power and possessions of the world

There is a much longer list  (4 pages) in a paper by Ellen Siegel on the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth website. The paper is called “Symbols of Change in Dutch Golden Age Still Life Paintings:Teachers’ Guide and Lesson Plan” and the list of icons is on page 12.

It is very interesting to consider the use of symbols within still lifes. I was aware of how symbols had been used from my research earlier in this course into the St Jerome painting by Durer. However the list in the University of Massachusetts paper above is considerable and I wasn’t aware of the very wide nature of symbols that can be used. I now have a reference list to check!

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