How to Understand a Painting: Decoding Symbols in Art

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Choosing ten symbols from the natural world (the sun, the shell, the bird) and ten man-made (the window, the book, the mirror), Fran├žoise Barbe-Gall illuminates our understanding of how these have been used and developed in art from the fifteenth to the twenty-first century, with sixty-eight wonderfully vivid examples.
Painting has always made abundant use of forms and objects to convey abstract ideas: love, hope for eternal life, loyalty or betrayal. These recurring motifs, which were familiar to many in the past, have mostly become mysterious to the audiences of today. Today's art-lover will have to learn to look out for all the small things that can so easily seem like unimportant details, or simply decoration. But a flower, a reflection in a mirror or a bird in flight nearly always mean more than they first appear to.
From Holbein's apple of knowledge to the black cat at the foot of Manet's Olympia, from Magritte's mysterious candles to Georgia O'Keeffe's flowers, this book shows how each work makes use of the language of symbols in an original and more meaningful way.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Frances Lincoln (July 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071123213X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0711232136
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds

Customer Reviews

Great book!

8 people found this helpful.
 on February 8, 2012
By Mary DI
This book was valuable to my daughter who recently took an art class at our local college. For her final exam, she had to write about a painting that she recently viewed at a museum. She was not at all sure how the review should be written until she read this book which was so valuable that my daughter received an “A” in her class due in large part to this book.

Docent’s and art lovers who read ahead will like it.

 on January 29, 2016
By Chauncey Gardener
One of three Francoise Barbe-Gall “How to…” guides Santazon left under the tree. The happy recipient, a docent, was very happy.

Five Stars

 on August 10, 2014
By Smart Shopper

Five Stars

 on August 29, 2014
By paul fullerton

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