Renaissance Art - Profane Try Project on Classical Mythology in art


In the same manner narratives for religious art were based on the Bible, the profane art looked to the Metamorphoses of Ovid for inspiration. Reviewing Ovid's writing is therefore the most effective way to begin approaching the secular art of the period. Fortunately you have those wonderful outlines from when you read it.
In truth, symbolic images artist would use were not specifically sacred and secular distinct - any symbol used in religious art could well appear in secular art. Sometimes, though not always, it may have a different meaning depending on the context the artist used it. Here's a few additional symbols that didn't appear directly in the religious art discussed, but nonetheless popular particularly in secular art.

Bow and Arrow
Tools associated with either Cupid or Diana. Cupid uses it to cause the "mischief" of love, and Diana for the hunt. For her it is a key item of vigilance, in the same manner that "sleeping" is lack thereof.

Round, soft and luminance, often used as a symbol for woman. Equally relevant is the moon's phases which are like those of woman. The crescent moon is associated with Diana and will be placed on her head not unlike a broach placed in the hair.

Often used as a feminine image with phallic implications. Adding water to the grotto (as Ovid was so want to do!) was a particular "over the top" image without too much subtlety.

Myrtle wreath
A fertility image. Held, or placed on or about a figure is associating fertility with them. Most often see with Venus for obvious reasons.
In secular art it is the feminine spirit. Due to the dual usage in religious art and its reference to the Holy Spirit, the artist may be making a subtle play between the image and it's dual implications.
Red/pink roses
A basic image for love and passion. Though the Virgin Mary is seen as the "Rose without thorns," Venus is most often the figure associated with the image.

Golden Apple
Derived as a reward from the famous beauty contest, it is an attribute associated with Venus who often is shown holding it, though she is also noted for finding other uses for it.

Again like the myrtle this is a fertility symbol. Venus will stand on one, or have another placed around her. But, any young female form is a likely candidate for the image to appear.

An image of extreme sensuousness, though with a covert sting. When offered it is a metaphor for the sweetness of love, but a reminder of its potential sting.

The sword is a traditional male phallic, whereas the sheath the corresponding female phallic. In other cases it may only be used as a tool of war and violence.
The passing of time most obviously shown with an old man holding it in hand. A youthful figure pondering the hourglass shows the transience of life ("Like sands though an hourglass…")
Urinating child
Believe it or not - an image used to convey good fortune. If the child does this in/through/around another image it could be referring to good fortune in regard to what that object itself represents.

Laurel leaf/crown
A sign of victory and triumph (See Apollo and Daphne). Since traditional assumption was that "truth prevails," it can also be seen as a reference to truth's eventual victory.

The most basic of the fertility symbols, water nymphs being the most frequent manifestation. The womb of birth is a vessel of water so to be submerged into it s a manner of rebirth or regeneration.


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