“À l’époque romane le symbole a une très grande importance.” – Translation: “In Roman times the symbol has a great importance.” (Roman art website)
Symbols have had a huge part in human history, from the cave art in Lascaux to today in the 21st century. There is symbolic meaning in anything and everything. During the Romanesque era, symbols played a vast role in architectural design in churches and cathedrals. The symbols were representations of stories or warnings. They were their constant biblical reminders of both evil and good. They help express our moral values that bring us closer to God. The church, within the Romanesque era concept, was not only a symbol of Christian religion, but also a symbol of protection. It protected the poor and exercised its right to act as a shelter for those in need. It was also a political and economical representation for most of Romanesque era and centuries to come.
The 19th century is known for many attributes and among them is symbolism in art both in paintings and literature. In fact, Stéphane Mallarmé is a great representative of a symbolist poet in his poem “L’Azur,” and Charles Baudelaire is another great example in his poem “L’Invitation au Voyage.” In both poems, they leave it to the reader for interpretation. Though, there are beliefs to what they refer to and the meaning of the poems. Such as in “L’Invitation au Voyage,” many belief it to be referring to “a better world;” it is also believed to be the description of a woman’s body. In symbolist paintings, Gustave Moreau is well-known for his “Oepidus and the Sphinx;” he captures movement along with mythological creatures. Symbolism for the 19th century is widely seen through biblical references in paintings and literature.
Symbols used in the church in the Romanesque era included ornaments, pets, exotic animals and monsters, and stories from the Old and New Testament. All of which have a religious aspect. The ornaments were geometric patterns that were, as believed in the website, to show the harmony of the universe created by God. Pets such as horses, dogs, birds, deer, etc, all have some sort of meaning to them. The most dominant theme is the struggle of man against evil and with God he can be free to go to heaven. Exotic animals and monsters, on the other hand, can represent both biblical references, such as the lion is the symbol of Christ and the evangelist Saint Mark, and they can also represent monsters. Through these they warn the believer to stray away from evil and the works of the world. They can characterize punishment resulting from temptation. In many churches, the siren is a symbol to remind men to be wary of the feminine charm.
Many common symbols today are still religious or biblical references such as the cross to remind us that Jesus died upon it for our sins. Symbolism and religion go hand in hand throughout the ages from the paintings in Lascaux, where they believed it to be a place of worship, to today with the cross, the fleurs-de-lis, or the Star of David. Or as in my marketing business professor would say, “They are highly correlated.”