Hagiography | and the identification of symbols in art

Hagiography (biography of the Saints) and literary sources are an important element for the identification of characters when we analyze works of art, namely Christian art.

This article contains a video with the symbols and attributes of the Saints most represented.

Iconography of the saints


A way to recognize the Saints is through their clothing, general appearance and symbols surrounding them.

Thus, on the image below, we can identify the following elements:

– a religious habit,

– Jesus figured as a Child (identified by the globe in his hand) being held by the Saint in question,

– and a lily (symbol of purity).

We can conclude that it is St. Anthony because we know that these are his attributes and characteristics: he was a Franciscan, so he wore that religious habit, and he is identified by the purity of his soul (the lily) and dedication to the word of Jesus (presence of the Holy Child). All this, one can learn from the proper sources, such as the Legenda Aurea.



Hagiography saint Anthony

St. Anthony. The Bell Tower of the Church of St. Anthony, in Lviv.


Note that sometimes the representations are quite ambiguous, not allowing us such a brief and easy reading, either because they are of a more obscure character, or because the attributes are missing, or even because they were misrepresented.

Graphic and written sources and hagiography are important throughout the entire process.

But this is where they may have even more importance – always side by side with some knowledge of local history or whatever data one can piece together from the history of the masterpiece itself.

For example, in this case, the habit doesn’t directly point us to think that this is a member of the Franciscan order.

However, on the other hand, the child and the lily belongs to the set of attributes we know for sure uniquely linked to this Saint, allowing us to conclude that it is actually of St. Anthony.

Get to know the symbols and attributes of some of the Saints most represented in the following presentation

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