Allegory in Painting

Thomas Cole, "The Voyage of Life: Childhood," 1842
Photo caption

Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life: Childhood, 1842 (detail). Part of an allegorical series on the different stages in a man's life.

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

Although your students probably associate the word allegory with works of literature, such as Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen or George Orwell's Animal Farm, they may be less familiar with the application of allegory to the visual arts. This lesson plan introduces students to allegory in the visual arts through the works of a number of well-known artists, including Thomas Cole and Caravaggio.

Guiding Questions

How is allegory defined and used in the visual arts?

Learning Objectives

Upon completing this lesson student will be able to: Define allegory and discuss its use in the visual arts.

Identify allegorical themes in a number of paintings.

Explain what makes an image allegorical.