Dictionary of Subject and Symbols in Art

James Hall

Second Edition • December 25, 2007 • 408 pages

Print ISBN: 9780813343938 • $47.00 USD$56.50 CAN


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The understanding and enjoyment of a work of art depends as much on the story it depicts as on the artist’s execution of it. But what were once biblical or classical commonplaces are not so readily recognizable today. This book relates in a succinct and readable way the themes, sacred and secular, on which the repertoire of Western art is based. Combined here in a single volume are religious, classical, and historical themes, figures of moral allegory, and characters from romantic poetry that appeared throughout paintings and sculpture in Western art before and after the Renaissance. More than just a dictionary, this text places these subjects in their narrative, historical, or mythological context and uses extensive cross-referencing to enhance and clarify the meanings of these themes for the reader.

The definitive work by which others are compared, this volume has become an indispensable handbook for students and general appreciators alike. This wholly redesigned second edition includes a new insert of images chosen by the author, as well as a new preface and index to highlight the ideas, beliefs, and social and religious customs that form the background of much of this subject matter.

James Hall passed away in August 2007. A noted scholar and historian of art, he was the author of several works, including The Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art (Westview Press, 1996).

Introduction by Kenneth Clark
Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to the First Edition
Note to the Revised Edition
The Dictionary
Supplementary Index

“A reference for decoding the iconography of works of art, this book gathers under one cover the subjects depicted in the large corpus of artwork that constitute the Western tradition. Easy to read, it is a first stop for students and scholars… Most art historians of Western art will want a copy on their personal reference shelf. Highly recommended.” —Choice

Praise for Previous Editions

“It is clearly written, well arranged, and can be read for its own sake as a compendium of the image-making faculty of Western man. I would recommend it strongly to anyone who wishes to increase his interest and pleasure in visiting a picture gallery or turning over the illustrations of a book of art.” —Kenneth Clark

“The volume is comprehensive to interested laymen, and should be quite useful for students and scholars. Entries pertain to persons, titles and pictures, and objects as attributes and symbols. Recurrent mythological, historical and religious themes are explored and allegorical, poetic, and saintly characters are also covered. Cross-references and appropriate line drawings enhance the book’s value. And because the entries are succinct and really absorbing, it’s fun simply to browse through this dictionary. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal

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