Hand and Eye

God in medieval and Renaissance art is often represented only by his hand, as in the hand of an artist extending from the heavens. Indeed Genesis describes God as a model craftsman carefully checking the quality of his daily production with the phrase : "and God saw that it was good." God is an artist and his hand symbolizes Creation. For this and other more mundane reasons the hand became a symbol of the artist’s craft while the eye came to represent the mind or imagination. These meanings are often missed because the current art historical paradigm takes images literally and fails to recognize that all figures, including their body parts, are representations of the artist.

As we demonstrate in a number of entries below, the hand and eye are often juxtaposed in art as well, one placed next to the other. There is meaning to this because without the hand, the conception in the artist’s eye is just a conception; without the conception, the hand has nothing to craft. Both are needed. With this simple idea many now-mysterious works of art can be explained. Nevertheless, not all representations of eye and hand are quite so obvious because, as poetic elements, artists often disguise them in visual metaphors: the eye as a window, a lighted doorway, the sun or moon etc. The hand may likewise be represented by an animal’s paw or an empty glove. Keep an eye out for these clues to art's meaning. They are important.

All Articles (Alphabetical by Artist, then Title)

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