The Dictionary of Symbols in Western Art

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9780816033010: The Dictionary of Symbols in Western Art

Illustrated with specially commissioned line drawings, this comprehensive A-to-Z guide is invaluable to the understanding and appreciation of Western painting and sculpture.

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This dictionary by Carr-Gomm, a teacher of art history in England, is meant to serve as an introduction to the meaning of symbols in Western art. Visual themes, religious and mythological, that occur in figurative paintings and sculpture from the late Middle Ages to the nineteenth century are covered alphabetically. The expected saints (Agatha, Francis of Assisi, Vincent Ferrer), biblical personages (Ruth, Moses, the Queen of Sheba), classical and mythological subjects (Sibyl, Prometheus, Priapus), objects (the True Cross, cards, the fig leaf), and themes (abundance, peace, death) serve as entries. The readable entries refer to specific paintings and artists as examples. Approximately 160 small and frequently unclear line drawings are supposed to illustrate key aspects of an entry. Interspersed alphabetically are feature panels on the treatment in art of major themes (the ages of man, the nude, virtues). See also references and footnotes are printed in the margins. The interested general reader may well have a problem with some of the classical sources cited. The biblical references are clear, but such writers as Hyginus, Physiologus, Philostratus the Younger, and Tasso will not be familiar. An artist index provides page number and documentation (date, location) for works of art mentioned. An "Index of Supplementary Words" includes cross-references and symbols discussed in feature panels or within entries.

Because no comprehensive source exists, academic and public libraries with art collections will want to consider Carr-Gomm's dictionary as a supplement to James Hall's classic Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (1975), along with the recently published Dent Dictionary of Symbols in Christian Art (1995) and Diane Appostolos-Cappadona's Dictionary of Christian Art [RBB Ap 1 95].

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Sarah Carr-Gomm
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