"The Arnolfini Portrait", 1434, by Jan van Eyck (National Gallery, London)
When is an image of a rose more than just a rose, and a lamb more than a wooly creature? Is there a symbolic difference when an artist paints an unlit candle and one in which a trail of smoke indicates a flame has just been extinguished? Can a Greek god represent a Spanish king?
Answers to questions like these are often keys to the meaning works of art, and their study is known as iconography. For centuries, artists have used images to convey a significance beyond the literal and obvious. Learning to understand the importance of these signs and symbols adds a rich contextual layer to our appreciation of fine art.
Lisa Passaglia Bauman, associate professor of art history at George Mason University, shares the mythological and biblical narratives that have had the greatest impact on the Western tradition. Through an analysis of images, allegories, motifs, and context, she traces the iconography of these enduring stories from their ancient archetypes to contemporary interpretations.
9:30–10:30 a.m. The Language of Symbols: Image, Text and Meaning
Begin with the basic concepts of iconography, such as attributes and allegories, number and color symbolism, and end with the complex classifications for understanding symbolism in medieval and Renaissance art.
10:45 a.m.–12 p.m. Power and Politics: Location and Leaders
Images of leaders are a form of propaganda often used to create a rich and heroic historical pedigree for a ruler. From ancient portraits on Roman coins to current political portrayals, pose, costume, and setting are used to communicate moral and didactic overtones.
12–1 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1–2:15 p.m. The Body: Heroism, Love, and Vulnerability
When we construct images, we construct myths. By looking closely at images of the body, both naked and nude, we can understand what artists were trying to communicate in works such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Michelangelo’s David, and Titian’s Venus of Urbino.
2:30–3:30 p.m. Mortality and Immortality: Tombs, Monuments, and Memorials
One purpose of a memorial is to get people talking, so that the memories being honored are alive after events and individuals pass into history. From the use of images on tombs to the monuments of Washington, D.C., explore the range and type of symbols that serve that function.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit*
*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.