5 Top Symbolic Artworks

Starry Night

Symbols and symbolism are a technique often used to convey hidden meanings and messages to viewers. As well as video and literature, it also provides a great deal of depth to artwork, from specific use of colors to characters to themes.

Specifically, symbolism is used when a painter wants to convey ideas that we cannot experience with our five senses alone. These examples of symbolism in artwork will help you to order your eyes to the magical world of seeing and symbols and hidden messages in works of art.

1.Jupiter and Semele – Gustave Moreau

Jupiter and Semele – Gustave Moreau Symbolic artwork

An ancient myth is depicted here by Gustave Moreau in his painting Jupiter and Semele, showing the story of the love of Jupiter with the god of gods, Semele. The biggest symbolic picture here is the relationship between humanity and the divine the ultimately ends in death.

Throughout the painting are the themes of death, destitution, nepotism, and resurrection. Certainly, human obsessions are also depicted in this work and the figure of Jupiter suggests certain isolation of the artist, his dreams and ideas his and his alone and hence come in the list of top symbolic artworks.

2.The Three Brides – Jan Toorop

The Three Brides – Jan Toorop

A group of scrawny figures is shown in Jan Toorop’s The Three Brides, arms and gestures which perhaps could be drawn from a puppet theatre. In Toorop’s work, there are a number of symbols at play.

The three brides depicted are the bride of Christ, the bride for earthly love, and a bride of satan, with a necklace of a skull and a snake. There’s a bowl of blood containing all the purity and passion of the brides, thorns that evoke pain and suffering in life, and bells in nailed hands to evoke the senses of the viewer.

The spiritual world and its relationship to the physical world are at the forefront of the artist’s work hence come in the list of top symbolic artworks.

3.The Yellow Christ – Paul Gaugin 

The Yellow Christ – Paul Gaugin 

The Yellow Christ, by Paul Gaugin, is the famous crucifixion of Jesus Christ depicted as if it was occurring in the 19th century. The colors, the backgrounds, and the clothing are all seen to symbolic of different things.

Certainly, the yellow color depicts the isolated nature and the religious piety of the 19th-century peasants, while the clothing of the subjects represents the regions from which they come from. 

City life is possibly undesirable, and the background splashed in autumn reds and oranges represents the desire of furthering oneself from the city.

4.Mona Lisa – Leonardo da Vinci

Mona Lisa – Leonardo da Vinci

One of the most famous artworks in the world, Mona Lisa contains a bunch of different symbols to be unpacked. Her expression and her smile is the most drawing aspect of the work, the central purpose of the painting.

Behind the enigmatic figure, da Vinci painted winding roads, emblematic of the problems we all face in life. The outlines, the figure, and the juxtaposing of light and dark all but enhance the painting’s symbolism.

The subject’s arm postures suggest there is a distance between her and her viewers and the central smile across her face suggests happiness or a sense of pride hence come in the list of top symbolic artworks.

5.Starry Night – Vincent van Gogh

Starry Night – Vincent van Gogh Top Symbolic Artworks

It has often been suggested that Starry Night shows van Gogh’s emotions, especially in the way he paints the dimly lit night sky as an expression of his battle to overcome disease and sickness. Through the painting, the artist displays a deep and purposeful relationship between the fires, waters, and misty surroundings he has painted.

Van Gogh’s brushstrokes convey a certain mastery in expressing emotions, where the trees, mountains, and hills convey the deep, dark recesses that threaten to envelop our souls.

Earth and heaven are undoubtedly connected in this work, and the movements of the wind across the painting depict the movements of our soul between this life and the next. Also, check out 25 Most Famous Vincent Van Gogh Paintings 


When viewing these works, there are indeed certain feelings beyond the five senses that are invoked in the viewer. These examples of symbolism in the art are impressive indeed and lend greater emotion to the works in which they are found.

It is without a doubt that artists now and in the future will continue to develop symbols into their works, and it is up to the viewers to interpret for themselves the deeper, impressive meanings of the artwork which we get to enjoy.

The Most Loved Art Stories by Our Readers

About The Artist Editorial

Delivering inspiring and authentic content for the Art, Design and Culture lovers and allowing artists to draw inspiration from no less than the best works of art in the world.