Launchpad: Allegory in Painting

The Use of Allegory in The Visual Arts

  1. Visual Allegory: The Arts
  2. Visual Allegory: Virtues and Vices
  3. Visual Allegory: The Tale of Man

1. Visual Allegory: The Arts

Read the definition of Allegory available through the EDSITEment-reviewed web resource Internet Public Library.

Work together to try to identify the art (or arts) depicted in the piece you have been assigned. List all of the objects in the image that point to a specific art (or arts). When you have completed your list, switch images with another group, and then write a new list for the new image. Switch until you have written a list for all four images.

Click on the link to the art work that your group has been assigned:

Once all the groups have four lists, gather together and compare your lists, then answer the following questions:

  • Do all the groups agree on the identification of all of the art works?
  • Are the lists identical?
  • What differences are there between the lists each group created?
  • Were there any pieces that were harder to identify? Which ones, and why?
  • While certain objects and symbols in the art works may point the audience towards a particular art—for example, the paintbrush and canvas in the representation of "painting"—are images simply symbols? If so, how are they more than symbols?

2. Visual Allegory: Virtues and Vices

Review the List of Virtues and Vices. Then work with your group to identify the virtue or vice being depicted in the image that you are assigned from the following list:

3. Visual Allegory: The Tale of Man

View the following paintings which were created by the same artist, and meant to be viewed as a group. What is the allegorical theme of the complete set of paintings? As you view these images complete this chart.

When you have examined the paintings and have completed the organizational chart, answer the following questions:
  • Which objects or figures appear in all of the paintings?
  • Which objects or figures only appear in one of the paintings?
  • What is the overall theme that runs through all of these paintings? Explain your answer, citing evidence from the painting.

In small groups work with your fellow group members to answer the following questions:

  • What details in this painting point to a specific time of life?
  • What, besides the age of the figure tells you what stage of maturity is represented by this painting?
  • Why do you think that the figure is shown on a river?
  • How does this painting convey the idea of a specific time in the life of man?


Open the link and examine the art work.

You have been assigned one of the images below: Make a list of all of the objects, figures, and landscape elements that might give a clue to the allegorical meaning of the painting. Remember that the allegorical subject of their painting might be one of the arts, a vice or virtue, or a reference to time (as Cole’s ages of man might be considered, as well as times of day or seasons of the year).

Based on the list of attributes that you have gathered attempt to identify the allegorical subject of the art work.