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Inspiration 5 Symbols of Love to Add to Your Next Painting

Ardak Kassenova

Other than red hearts, what other symbols of love can you add to your paintings this year?


Symbols of Love for Your Art

Cupid
Roses
Seashell
Apple
Harp


Across all periods and art movements, love has been a favourite subject by artists. From ancient Egyptian frescoes, Greek vases to sculpture and paintings of devotion in religious iconography throughout Renaissance, love has been directly or indirectly represented through symbols. In this article, we will take a look at five symbols of love found in master paintings that you can add to your very own body of work.

Symbols of Love for Your Art

Cupid

A very popular symbol of love that you can add to your future paintings is the cute Cupid. However varied, Cupid’s genealogy is popularly traced as the child of Aphrodite in Greek mythology or Venus in Roman mythology. Also referred to as the god of love, Cupid or Eros in Greek mythology is known for his ability to make both divine and mortal beings fall in love through his magical arrows. Apparently, the little deity has charmed us, mortals, enough that the Cupid can be spotted across several art movements and periods. 

Cupid Complaining to Venus - Amor beklagt sich bei Venus, ca. 1525 by Lucas Cranach the Elder - Symbols of Love
Cupid Complaining to Venus – Amor beklagt sich bei Venus, ca. 1525 by Lucas Cranach the Elder. National Gallery, London. Public Domain commons.wikimedia.org

From the Medieval to Renaissance and Modern art, artists have featured a fascination with the Cupid. Now mostly depicted as an adorable fluttering cherub compared to how he was portrayed in the Middle Ages—a single adolescent deity, Cupid has definitely evolved spanning several periods. One thing is certain, Cupid or Eros will always be the most popular symbol of love—next to the heart.

Venus with a Mirror, (ca. 1555) By Titian - Symbols of Love
Chubby Cupid in Venus with a Mirror, (ca. 1555) By Titian. Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

TRIVIA: The first ever scalloped heart shape–the shape we all know–first appeared in Documenti d’Amore – Documents of Love, a book by Italian jurist Francesco Barberino that became very popular in the 1300’s. One of its illustrations, a naked cupid standing on the back of a horse with “hearts symbols” in it, throwing arrows and roses at bystanders. After the publication of this book, the heart shape we all know began appearing in other works of visual art.

Documenti d’Amore by Francesco Barberino ca. 1264-1348 - Symbol of Love
Documenti d’Amore by Francesco Barberino ca. 1264-1348 commons.wikimedia.org

Roses

Depending on the colour, their context could communicate the innocence or intensity of love, ranging from white for purity to deep red for the boldness of love. During the reign of Queen Victoria of England, sending secret messages by way of flowers became a thing across the upper class. And this is due to new standards of etiquette limiting communication across the court.

The Roses of Heliogabalus, (1888). by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema - Symbol of Love
The Roses of Heliogabalus, (1888). by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org. Painting depicting the young Roman emperor Elagabalus (203–222 AD) hosting a banquet.

Red Blossoms by Ardak Kassenova painted using ZenART Infinity Series Oil Paint Sets - Symbols of Love
Red Blossoms by Ardak Kassenova. Oil on canvas, painted using the Infinity Series Oil Paint Sets and the Renoir Collection brushes.

Considered as one of the many symbols of love associated with the goddess Aphrodite or Venus, roses also share significance in Christianity as it is often a symbol for the Virgin Mary. In a religious sense, red roses also symbolize Christ’s sacrifice, its petals portraying the wounds from the cross. Despite the representation of mortality, it’s worth mentioning that red roses also symbolises earthly love and devotion. Adding some roses to your paintings will not only make your piece visually pleasing, but it can also convey some secret messages of passion and love, depending on the colour of course.

Bouquet of Roses, (ca. 1890-1900) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Public Domain wikiart.org

Seashell

Religions from all over the world also depicted the seashells in some of their imagery—a right-coiled conch is one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism and in Hinduism, the god Vishnu, the creator, is shown holding a conch in his right hand, and let’s not forget about Venus often painted rising from a giant clamshell, like in Botticelli’s La nascita di Venere or The Birth of Venus ca. 1484-86.

The Birth of Venus – La nascita di Venere, ( ca. 1484-86) by Sandro Botticelli. Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

Seashells are generally regarded as a symbol of feminine qualities, fertility, birth, good fortune and resurrection. It is also noted that among other symbols of love, seashells are usually associated with the goddess of love, Aphrodite or Venus. A seashell was also used not only as a symbol of love but of fertility in Da Vinci’s The Annunciation ca. 1472.

The shell as a sign of fertility in The Annunciation (ca. 1472) by Leonardo da Vinci. commons.wikimedia.org

Apples

In most cases, apples are considered to be a symbol of love, desire, and abundance. It is said that to signify lasting love and eternal union, Gaea gave a tree bearing golden apples to Hera as a wedding present when she married Zeus. Although apples have long been a symbol of love, youth, health and fertility, in a different tale from the same mythology, apples became the symbol for discord. This happened when goddess Eris started the golden apple conflict out of spite.

The Three Graces – Les Trois Grâces (ca. 1504-05) by Raphael. Condé Museum,  Château de Chantilly, France. Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

The golden apple that started the Trojan War—along with the face that launched a thousand ships— was inscribed “To the Fairest” and planted at the marriage ceremony of Peleus and Thetis. Hera or Juno, Athena or Minerva and Aphrodite or Venus wanted to claim this symbolic prize and as a result, Zeus commanded Paris of Troy to give the apple to the fairest goddess. To win his vote, Aphrodite promised the young man the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen. The abduction of Helen marked the beginning of the Trojan War. Now that’s one strong if not complicated symbol of love.

The awarding of the golden apple with Venus, Minerva and Juno. The Judgement of Paris (ca. 1638-39) by Peter Paul Rubens. Museo del Prado, Spain. Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

Harp

The Harp is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world and was a fashionable accessory to portraits and sitting rooms. It is also a well-known symbol of love as it usually represents romantic poetry and music. In Christianity, the harp is also noted as a symbol of devotion and love because it is said that King David played this instrument to the Lord himself to express his undying love.

Marie Antoinette playing the harp at French Court, (1775) by Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty. Gouache on paper. Palace of Versailles Collection. Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org
La Ghirlandata (ca. 1871-1874) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Guildhall Art Gallery, London. Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

Today, and every other day, let us remember to practice the sharing of love through the use of art! Which one among the symbols of love is your favourite? Share your comments, stories and opinion below, we’d love to hear your thoughts! Have a lovely Love Month!


— MEET THE AUTHOR—
Ardak Kassenova, ZenART Supplies co-founder, @ardak_zenart

Ardak Kassenova is a London based contemporary artist, co-founder and creative director of ZenART Supplies. Her visual style—contemporary impressionism—share similar aesthetic qualities with those by the French Impressionists. After 20 years of a successful corporate career, becoming a mother to two wonderful girls, and with the continuous development of her practice by taking private lessons from the best artists she could find; Ardak decided it’s time to align her life with her true passion, Art. Driven by this passion and her corporate leadership background, she co-founded ZenART.

My heart and soul were always with Art, and since my childhood as long as I remember myself, I was dreaming to be an artist. I was painting after work, when I had time, and teaching myself through the books, videos, visiting art galleries and museums. I’ve been very curious about different techniques and styles, and therefore accumulated knowledge and experience on a variety of mediums.” 

Read more about Ardak Kassenova in this feature. Say hello to @ardak_zenart on Instagram!


References:
History of Cupid, https://mymodernmet.com/art-history-of-cupid/ 
Shells Symbolism and Science, https://www.hakaimagazine.com/features/the-symbolic-seashell/
Documenti d’Amore and History of heart symbol, https://time.com/4662675/valentines-day-heart-shape-origins/

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