Meaning Of Hand Gestures In Medieval Art
Forms of communication can be broadly bifurcated into verbal and non-verbal forms. Body language is a very vital form of non-verbal communication and gestures are a sub unit of the category. Interestingly, gestures do not have universal meanings. The interpretation of gestures varies from one culture to another. In fact, some gestures which signify a compliment in a particular culture could have a highly offense meaning in another place.
Hand gestures hold a significant place in religious art. Research over the years has revealed that certain hand gestures demonstrated in Judeo- Christian art represent an ecclesiastical language obscured in metaphors. Probably the audience themselves are unaware of the actual significance of the distinct hand gestures personified in these paintings. Study has highlighted eight very frequently used hand gestures in the Judeo-Christian art.
The painting of Leonardo da Vinci entitled ‘St. John the Baptist’ represents the Sign of Preservation. This gesture communicates the significance of baptism in achieving salvation. The Sign of Despair can be comprehended from two distinguished pieces of art; Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgment’ which is a mural on the altar wall in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City and J H Steen’s ‘The Sacrifice of Iphigenia’, which portrays a king leaning on his stick in depression owing to the execution of a woman. Two paintings that bring to light the gesture or Sign of Heaven and Earth are ‘Diana and Calisto’ created by D Dossi and ‘No Li Me Tangere’ produced by Correggio da. The first painting shows a woman using the gesture to foretell a woman's ascendance to heaven after her demise and the second piece of work displays Jesus with the Sign of Heaven and Earth illustrating his conversation with Mary Magdalene in the post Resurrection phase.
The hand gesture symbolizing the Sign of Blessing is evident in G Bellini’s painting, ‘Christ's Blessing’ wherein Christ is blessing the world. The Sign of Prayer is vivid in works such as ‘Portrait of a Praying Man’ by A Memling and ‘The Prodigal Son amid the Swine’ by B Durer. Judeo-Christian art depicts the Sign of Resignation through the painting, ‘Annunciation’ done by A Lorenzetti. This painting illustrates Angel Gabriel communicating to Mary regarding her conception of Jesus. In this picture, Mary represents the Sign of Resignation exemplifying that she is resigning her fate to the Almighty. Another piece of work that highlights the same gesture is F Angelico’s ‘Altarpiece of the Annunciation’. This painting also uses a similar gesture to symbolize the same concept as in the previous painting. Projecting the misery of Iphigenia through the Sign of Distress at the time of her execution is the Roman Fresco entitled, ‘Sacrifice of Iphigenia’. Finally is the Sign of Praise which is reflected well in the artistic piece, ‘Crucified Christ with Saint John the Evangelist, the Virgin, and Saints Dominic and Jerome’ by F Angelico. This displays a man gesturing the sign in praise of Jesus after his Crucifixion. The same artist also created another piece of art highlighting the identical gesture. This painting called ‘Presentation in the Temple’ uses the sign while a lady is being presented with baby Jesus.
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