KEY: A - B


Category Sub-category Detail   Identity; Possible Symbolism; Definition
ANGEL Adult anchor symbolizes Hope; if eyes cast up to star: hope for someone at sea  Anchor of Hope
lilies Archangel Gabriel, the Annunciation Angel
raised finger Archangel Gabriel, the Annunciation Angel
riding chariot Nike, Goddess of Victory (no halo) 
sword, dragon Archangel Michael, subduing Satan
writing on shield or tablet: Nike, Goddess of Victory, inscribing the names of victors
Child archery equipment: bow, arrow, quiver Cupid/Eros
head with wings cherub, a Biblical rather than Greek or Roman image, often based on the well-known ones at the bottom of Raphael's Sistine Madonna; Cupid appears more often on cameos than cherubs do
torch with Apollo or Aurora/Eos: Genius of Light; most other settings: Cupid/Eros; Cupid can appear in scenes with mortals or other gods to symbolize that a couple are falling in love or are lovers/spouses, not because he is traditionally a participant in their tale
ANIMALS Butterfly Psyche; by extension, the soul, spiritual love
  Camel     setting is Middle East, often Biblical, e.g., Rebecca at the Well
Dog associated with hunting (see Hound);  Cupid & his Dog; in more allegorical scenes symbolizes fidelity
Dolphin may accompany any of the sea deities; Cupid riding: after B. Thorvaldsen's Cupid at Sea
  Elephant headdress   possibly Alexander the Great
Goat common in scenes with Cupid or Bacchus, symbolizes lust; in country village scenes, presumably more innocuous
Horse with rider St. George; Amazon; Napoleon
winged Pegasus: sprang from Medusa's body after decapitation by Perseus; tamed by Athena; given to the Muses; lent to Bellerophon to aid in slaying the Chimaera; may appear with any of these figures
Horses drawing chariot see chariot
in water/waves with bearded man: Poseidon/Neptune as god of horses
Hound(s) Diana/Artemis; Actaeon; Orion; other hunters
Lamb held by woman, no halo: Allegory of Innocence; woman with halo: St. Agnes ( a pun, L. agnus = lamb)
Lion with Cupid Cupid riding: after a work by B. Thorvaldsen; Cupid walking next to: after Thorvaldsen's Cupid on Earth
Lion's head  with mane, as headdress
worn in place of armor by Hercules/Heracles; by Queen Omphale while Hercules must wear women's clothes; by Alexander the Great, as association with Heracles
Panther, panther skin worn by Bacchus/Dionysus, sometimes by female followers
  Ram's horns curled, directly on head   symbol of Egyptian Ammon; on bearded male: Ammon-Zeus; on beardless male: Alexander the Great, Apollo if figure is radiant
Snake(s), serpent(s) as hair: Medusa; wrapped around staff, a caduceus: Asclepius, sometimes Mercury/Hermes; fed by woman: Hygeia/Salus; leading woman who pulls at neckline of robe: Nemesis; biting woman's heel or near woman on ground: Eurydice (Orpheus &); at woman's breast: Cleopatra
Spider Arachne
Stag, deer, hind representative of woodland lfe under Diana's protection; being pursued with hounds or restrained by Diana/Artemis: Actaeon
APPLE in scenes of Judgment of Paris; (also Pomona)
ARMOR Breast plate, aegis Medusa Athena/Minerva
  Cuirass "scaled"   armor for the torso composed of many small plates: Athena/Minerva
Helmet face on visor Athena/Minerva in satyr-faced helmet
monster/dragon crest Perseus; Athena/Minerva, an allusion to her role in the Perseus story
owl Athena/Minerva
Pegasus Athena/Minerva, an allusion to her role in the Perseus story
plumed Elaborately plumed: Athena/Minerva; shorter, trimmed: Mars/Ares, Trojan War hero
    "scaled"   covered in small plates: Athena/Minerva, substitution for "scaled" cuirass when only head is shown
sphinx crest Athena/Minerva, no tale connects them, just meant to be fearsome
wolf, suckling boys Minerva, as patroness of Rome, with founders Romulus & Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf
woman and centaur Hercules/Heracles with the centaur Nessus carrying off Deianeira; he is more typically shown wearing a lion skin
on ground or cloud surface winged woman: Nike with spoils of war
Shield Medusa Athena/Minerva
round, with spike or decorated center a clipeus; carried by woman, rule out drum carried by bacchante
BABY Boy with wings Cupid; cherub
without wings with wine-related elements, sometimes drinking with Cupid: Roman Bacchus; generic putto (pl., putti) or Greek erotes, plural of Eros
BASKET Flowers carried by female Aurora/Eos; Spring; frequently ambiguous
BIRDS Dove 2 drinking from fountain or bowl perhaps just what they seem to be; in Christian setting refreshment of the soul; wellspring of faith; see Pliny's Doves
2 or more flying about female figure or drawing chariot Venus/Aphrodite; can also appear in scenes with Cupid to link him with Venus
4 perched on rim of bowl Pliny's Doves; aka Capitoline doves
dove, held to breast ancient image indicating sorrow for a dear departed; the dove represents the soul, now lifeless, a mourning image; see Pliny's Doves
flying away from reaching figure soul escaping earthly bonds, a mourning image; see Pliny's Doves
flying, radiant and/or head downward Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost, Christian symbology; often with radiance around it
Eagle proper animal of Zeus/Jove, can be his servant or the god in that form, servant if carrying thunderbolts; carrying boy or youth: Zeus/Jove abducting Ganymede; being fed by girl: Hebe; often with Aurora/Eos, also Day, because it hunts by day; Cupid riding: after B. Thorvaldsen's Cupid in Heaven
Owl Night/Nyx, it hunts by night; Athena/Minerva
Peacock proper animal of Hera/Juno
Phoenix mythical bird that was reborn from its own ashes, not commonly seen on cameos; the European eagle, unlike the American bald eagle, has a tuft of feathers on the head, leading to its sometimes being confused with the phoenix
Rooster, cock, cockerel proper animal of Mercury/Hermes
Swan Zeus/Jove in that form with woman: Leda & the Swan; also sometimes in the company of Venus/Aphrodite or Cupid/Eros, occasionally with Apollo
BLOCK Stone head on top a herm: head can be Mercury/Hermes, guideposts & shrines for travelers; ithyphallic figure, Priapus ; other figures may appear in this form, other clues in the composition can generally provide ID
BOOK(S)       Mary Magdalen sometimes appears with a book/Bible; often an attribute of a sibyl
BOWL Shallow a patera, used for pouring libations; Hebe offering Zeus nectar, Hygeia feeding/making offering to snake; element of many classical worship scenes
BRAZIER on tripod, smoking in scene with veiled woman: priestess or seer; in scene with people bearing or putting into flame wine or sprinkling something into flame: devotees, look for other clues in scene of whom; woman with snake sprinking herbs in flame: Hygeia
BREAST Bare female figure   wearing diadem, often, lowered chin: Venus/Aphrodite; drooping eyelids and/or snake on breast: Cleopatra