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Nature and Its Symbols

by Lucia Impelluso J. Paul Getty Museum
Pub Date:
Pbk 384 pages
AU$42.99 NZ$43.47
Product Status: Not Our Publication - we no longer distribute
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Nature and Its Symbols is the fifth volume in the series A Guide to Imagery, reference guides whose goal is to explain the symbols used in art. This volume includes chapters on plants, flowers, fruits, and animals of the earth, air, and water, as well as fantastical creatures such as centaurs, griffons, and dragons. The vivid illustrations, which include paintings and tapestries from some of the world's premier museums, are accompanied by texts that offer a careful analysis of the artists' depictions of the natural world. fruit, or animal portrayed, its mythic or literary origins, and the episodes or individuals associated with it. These salient points are also called out in summary form within each entry, making the information easily accessible. The reader discovers, for example, that the iris can represent Jesus or the purity of the Virgin Mary as well as the kings of France or the city of Florence. The monkey, which can be symbolic of the devil, heresy, or bad temper, is also associated with the three wise men who travelled to Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus.
"Following up on four previous titles explaining mythological and biblical iconography in paintings, the latest in the Getty's superb series does not disappoint. The myriad plants, flowers, fruits, animals (land, flying and aquatic) and "Creatures of the Imagination" that appear in medieval and Renaissance painting all have symbolic meanings; Impelluso devotes chapters to each of those categories, further dividing them by object: everything from quinces, myrtle and hyacinth to snakes, grasshoppers, sphinxes and harpies get their due. Impelluso (Gods and Heroes in Art) identifies their prominent appearances in various masterworks and explains their varying significances. Most of the reproductions are centered on the page, with small blocks of text surrounding them, with unobtrusive lines connecting the text to the actual objects it describes. It works beautifully, making the often ignored, busy backgrounds of many less-discussed works - like Lucas Cranach the Elder's The Virgin Under the Apple Tree and Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine - come alive with meaning." -  Publishers Weekly


"Impelluso's delectable visual dictionary neatly explicates the symbolic and even magical meanings inherent in depictions of the natural world in traditional Western art, images that constitute a lost language just like the allusions De Rynck reveals. In order to reclaim this forgotten knowledge so that even when viewing a "simple still life" readers will understand that "every single fruit, flower, or animal is charged with a specific, characteristic significance," Impelluso organizes her guide into sections on plants, flowers, fruits, land animals, flying animals, aquatic animals, and creatures of the imagination. The meanings associated with, say, the rose, or the orange, the horse, the parrot, the dolphin, or the unicorn, are briskly elucidated, and premier examples are highlighted in 400 astutely chosen masterworks, each crisply reproduced and enhanced by concise and often surprising explanatory notes."   - - Donna Seaman, Booklist
Lucia Impelluso is an architect specializing in iconograpphy. She is also the author of Themes, Meanings, Symbols in Portraiture.