KEY: L - V


Category Sub-Category Detail    Identity; Possible Symbolism; Definition
LAUREL WREATH worn by Apollo, the Muses & others - mythological & historical - deemed as being under his influence or possessing his gifts; held aloft by Nike, goddess of Victory; Zeus/Jove; depending on context, a symbol of refinement or of victory
LEAVES Grain without ear of wheat/barley Persephone (Kore, Proserpina, Proserpine)/ nymph Arethusa if dolphin(s) also present
Grape Bacchus/Dionysus; bacchante/maenad; Cybele; Ariadne
Ivy Bacchus/Dionysus; bacchante/maenad; Ariadne
Laurel Apollo; Muses; Zeus/Jove; Athena/Minerva; Mars/Ares; mortal heroes; Roman emperorors; celebrated poets, artists & philosophers, ancient & modern; in general signifies triumphs of intellect or arms
Oak Zeus/Jove
Palm frond with winged woman: Nike, goddes of Victory; carried by a figure with a halo: a martyr saint; religious context but no halo: a martyr, sometimes one of the unnamed 'virgin martyrs' who do not have haloes
MASK Theatrical frowning, tragedy Muse Melpomene
smiling, comedy Muse Thalia
Helmet visor Athena/Minerva, face of Jove on visor
MOON Crescent on brow/head: Diana/Artemis or Luna; above veiled woman: Night/Nyx; woman standing on: Mary
Man in the Moon sometimes included in depictions of Diana/Artemis
MOUNTAIN 2 peaks Vesuvius, usually in background of scene with water, Bay of Naples
MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS Cymbals associated with the revels of Bacchus/Dionysus
Drum associated with the revels of Bacchus/Dionysus, tympanum
Flute, double associated with the revels of Bacchus/Dionysus; n.b., looks like our recorder, not the transverse flute of today
Flute, single ambiguous, other clues needed to decide if nymph, bacchante or Psyche; n.b., looks like our recorder, not the transverse flute of today
Harp King David; often in scenes of Cupid with Venus or Psyche; may be small or large enough to sit on ground, is shorter & straight on the end near the player, taller & often curved on the far end
Kithara similar to lyre, but with sound box at base, sometimes carried by Apollo instead of lyre
Lyre Apollo, Muses Erato & Terpsichore, Orpheus; an easily portable instrument, lyres differ from harps in having a symmetrical shape curved on both sides, often seen poking over the figure's shoulder rather than complete & can be confused with arrows in a quiver
Pan pipes, syrinx Pan; woodland nymph
Pipe organ St. Cecilia
Sistrum associated with the revels of Bacchus/Dionysus
Trumpet blown to announce arriving royalty, proclamation, revelation, depending on context
NUDE Man with cloak   full figure standing in chariot, cloak billowing behind: Apollo or Mars/Ares
  Woman     Venus/Aphrodite is traditionally shown with bared breasts/upper torso, when seated lap is usually lightly covered
ORB held up in hand or under foot of seated woman Muse Urania
PALETTE Artist's seen most often with painter Raphael, but can also be in more general scene
PALM TREE       indicates scene is in Middle East, common in Biblical subjects, e.g., Rebecca at the Well
PLINTH block or column supporting effigy of a god in worship scenes or otherwise indicating the figure is elevated; the head of Mercury/Hermes directly at top of block is called a herm, they were guides for travelers, in a scene with mortals an indication they are traveling
QUILL PEN Nike inscribing on shield or tablet; very large: probably a palm frond, attribute of Nike & Christian martyrs
SCROLL Muse Clio; Apollo, some of the sibyls
SKULL       St. Mary Magdalen may have a skull under her hand or near her; always symbolic of death, it is a memento mori, a reminder of mortality
SOLDIER Roman see centurion
STAFF Flowering St. Joseph
Pincone headed Bacchus/Dionysus, a 'thyrsus'
Ribbons criss-crossed Mercury/Hermes
Snakes caduceus; the snake on Aesculepius's staff got confused with the 2 ribbons on Mercury's herald's staff so that this attribute can appear with either figure
Wings at top kerykeion: Mercury/Hermes
STAR in scene with anchor: Polaris, the North Star; in sky near woman with flowers: the Morning Star with Aurora
STOOL 4 legged a throne, symbol of royalty
SUN sometimes with Day, in jugate cameos with Night; 2nd & 5th Hours of the Day
SWIRLS bottom of composition clouds, indicating Olympus or heaven, depending on context; curlicues decorative only
TIPTOES figure standing on tiptoes indicates terrestial figure is dancing; when in clouds, one indicator of a goddess; see also Three Graces
TOOLS Bident long handle, 2 tines/prongs Hades/Pluto
Trident long handle, 3 barbed prongs for spearing fish: Neptune/Poseidon
Hammer Vulcan/Hephaestus
Scythe Saturn; see also Days of the Week
Shepherd's crook Paris; Muse Thalia; Apollo
Sickle Ceres; Biblical scene: Ruth
TORCH boy with wings carrying Cupid; the Genius of Light when seen with Apollo's procession or Aurora/Eos; also with B. Thovaldsen's & some other representations of Day
can look similar to cornucopia held by eagle: companion of Aurora/Eos, daybreak; held by winged boy: Cupid, Genius of Light
eagle clutching usually seen with Day or Aurora/Eos, who bring the morning light; the eagle hunts by day
TREE in scene with woman, small buildings standard part of the many generic country scene cameos
Laurel woman turning into one: Daphne; effigy of wreathed man in one: Apollo
Olive associated with Athena/Minerva, who gave it to mankind, difficult to distinguish from laurel without other clues
TRIPOD support for brazier, also name for entire apparatus, used to make burnt offerings or for sweet/salubrious herbs
TROJAN Man helmeted   possibly a Trojan hero of the Trojan War, but more likely one of the Greeks, who won that contest; other possibilities are Mars & Athena
TURBAN Woman desert scene/well Rebecca at the Well
Young woman looking back over shoulder Beatrice Cenci
URN Lidded/footed may appear in scenes indicating mourning; by itself: mourning
Open figure pouring from female holding under arm: Aurora/Eos, Iris, personification of well/spring/small water course; male holding or leaning on: personification of a river; either gender: Aquarius
VEIL Long Night/Nyx; Muse Melpomene; Vesta/Hestia, priestess, seer; Virgin Mary; symbol of modesty, secrecy or darkness
Short like a handkerchief draped at back of head, an occipite, Roman fashion for married women seen often on Hera/JunoCeres also Day