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The use of symbolism throughout the Exposition is essentially Spanish. It is not religious in purpose it is purely an architectural decoration, in Spain, symbolism in the days of the Renaissance was wrought out mainly in the hands of the architects. It did not appear in the early Spanish paintings to any degree, but about the doorways, on the façades of the buildings and upon the friezes and cornices the Spaniards lavished a veritable lacework of heraldic and symbolic decoration.
Some of the most characteristic of these Spanish motifs have been drawn upon throughout the architectural schemes of decoration at the Exposition, notably the use of the rose and the shell. The stories of the origin of these two motifs in Spanish architecture show in what beautiful and romantic thought the Spaniards employed symbolism.
The rose as used throughout the Exposition is what is known as the Rose of the Renaissance - the Rose of Jericho.
A Spanish crusader of the House of Castile, answering the mystic call that summoned men forth to unknown lands and unwonted hardships, fell exhausted upon the desert sands in the land of Jericho, and at his earnest entreaty was left to perish by his companions. As he lay alone and dying a Saracen chief rode by with his daughter. She besought her father to bear the helpless stranger to their home, and in accordance with the desert laws of hospitality to give him shelter and assistance. In the home of the Saracen the Christian knight was brought back to life and health, and in the garden surrounded by the white roses that seemed the emblem of her youth and beauty, he wooed and won the maid, and took her as his bride to Spain.
In the new land she drooped and faded, and he learned with anguish of her longing for her own land and her own people. She pined for the scenes of her girlhood, and particularly for the great white roses that had bloomed with such profusion in the garden of her home.
The knight sent across the seas and the deserts and had brought to Spain slips from the white rose of Jericho. These were planted and tenderly cared for, but like their princess they drooped and faded in the strange land - all save one. That grew and blossomed into splendid beauty, but, as is true of the rose today, in its new home it had changed color. Its blossom was blood red. He brought her one, and as she held it in her slender fingers she said: "Oh, my beloved, the white rose was as my soul that I have left in my own land among my own people. And the red rose is as the blood of my heart that I have given unto you."
She died, and the Crusader planted the rose above her tomb. He had the flower form carved in stone upon her memorial in the church of his fathers, and the Spanish builders, seizing upon the beauty of the design and the pathos of the story, wrought it about the doorways and the arches and the friezes throughout all Spain.
This is perhaps the most widely used of the Spanish architectural symbols at the Exposition. About the doorways, below the cornices, supporting the garlands of the friezes in the coffered vaults of the arches, everywhere the Rose of Jericho - the Rose of Spain - is set.
In art generally the rose signifies glory, and the thought of Spain. Among the Romans and Greeks and in Christian art the rose stands for opulence, for festivity, for abundance and for pleasure.
The story of the shell has more of a religious note.
Saint James of Compostella turned from the thoughts and pleasures of this life to meditation on the sufferings, humiliation and death of Christ. He vowed that alone, barefoot, and in humility he would travel to the Holy Land and stand by the tomb of the Saviour in Palestine. The first of the palmers or pilgrims, he kept his vow. On his eastward journey he bound upon his hat a little black cockle-shell, the sign of the sea and the suggestion of water in the desert. On his return from the tomb he wore a white cockle-shell, a symbol of purification. Since that time the shell has been the pilgrim's sign, the sign of the wanderer, the traveler from the far lands, the seeker after the unknown. When a pilgrim returned from Palestine with the white shell upon his hat, kings made way, for the holy man had stood on sacred ground. So this sign too was seized upon by the builders and became a frequent form in their decoration.
Topping most of the light posts, gracing the cornices, banding the columns, and in many places interlaced with the rose about the portals at the Exposition, can be found the cockle-shell of Saint James, the other great Spanish sign.
Another beautiful story is found in the adaptation of the acanthus leaf into Greek symbolism, the motif of the Corinthian capital. The plant grew in the gardens of the Greek Elysium, hence its meaning is heavenly life the resurrection. It springs up afresh each year and therefore typifies the new life, in symbolism it is very Roman, very Greek and very Pagan. It recalls this tender story of death and love, and the triumph of love over death:
Death robbed a young Greek sculptor of his bride within the marriage month. He had entered a great contest for an architectural design for the cap of a column to adorn the Temple of Diana. Brokenhearted, he followed his bride to her tomb and placed upon the stone a basket of acanthus leaves as the sign of life and love imperishable. The wind blew the leaves about and the unhappy youth placed a tile to hold the leaves in the basket. Returning within the week he found them drooped and curled beneath the weight of the tile, but still fresh and vigorous. He sketched them thus, submitted the design, and gave to the world the capital of the Corinthian column, perhaps the most favored among architects.
Among the Greeks this column always stood before the shrines of the virgin goddess Diana, before the portals of Minerva's temples, and upheld the roof above the shrines of Juno.
Hundreds of other forms have in this manner, through romance, through tragedy, through sentiment or through pathos, found their way into the forms of decoration that artists, sculptors and architects have lavished upon their work. Some other of the most frequently used and easily recognized emblems that may be seen in the friezes, on the walls and cornices, on the columns and arcades and arches, around the doorways and topping the domes and towers of the Exposition, are these:
The olive - leaf and branch; among the Greeks, sacred for its healing qualities; for peace and rest. Among the Christians the olive means peace, reconciliation. It is a very Spanish symbol, especially when combined with the dove.
The pineapple - the emblem of power and resistance to the elements; also of preservation.
The swastika - the symbol of eternity; forces returning upon their basic point; best seen on the double Greek fret or in the curving Roman form. The Greek rose is here shown with the Greek fret.
The Egyptian rain sign - parallel lines waving in a vertical direction, suggesting the falling rain.
The fleur-de-lis - fecundity. It comes from ancient Egypt, Syria and Persia, and entered into the art of the west by way of Byzantium. Ornamenting the scepter and crowns of the early Christian kings, it expresses majesty, royalty and loyalty.
The crocus - the first flower that comes above the snow; adopted by the Greeks as their emblem of spring. The crocus is shown bossed on the Ionic column.
The pomegranate - a Roman symbol of fecundity, fruitfulness, unity and power. The thought is found in the countless seeds shut within a single shell. Dante speaks of the pomegranate as the emblem of life on the other side of death. Mrs. Jamison says it is the symbol of immortality; the seeds of hope in eternity typified by the unexpected sweetness of the seeds in the bitter rind. The early Roman Christians took it as the symbol of unity of thought; hence, a vast congregation within a single church.
The palm - a Roman sign for victory over death.
The honeysuckle - the first vine to put forth its buds in the spring. The young Greek maidens bound it about their temples on festal days. It was, therefore, among the Greeks an emblem of rejoicing and of purity.
The primrose - the Greek emblem of childhood. It was the flower sacred to little girls.
The apple - the emblem of the knowledge of good and evil.
Corn and wheat - the lavish gifts of the earth. Corn was indigenous in Egypt, and wheat in the valley of the Tigres. These two grains were used on the temples of Greece and Rome as emblems of man's appreciation of the generosity and bounty of the gods. They were peculiarly sacred to Jupiter and to Ceres.
The lotus - an Egyptian sign of the resurrection. The ram's head is shown below with the lotus on the under side of the bowl.
The oak - emblem of the passing of long years hence, disuse; hung with ivy it typifies decay. These two symbols are of Norse or Druidical origin.
The cock - a widely known and very beautiful emblem Among the Italians it symbolizes the clarion call of the Renaissance - the awakening. It is a very Italian sign. It is found at the crossroads and on the pinnacles of the churches to remind the people of the resurrection and that when the cock calls the day begins anew. Also the cock is the emblem of faith, bringing back the old story of Saint Peter who thrice denied Christ before the cock crew, and then at the sound proclaimed his fealty. Through all ages the cock has been the emblem of the break of day and the passing of the darkness. This gives him a peculiar fitness as a Renaissance emblem. Probably in the ''Chanticleer" Rostand took this idea of the cock's crowing at daybreak from the old legends among the Romans. Cocks were sacrificed to Apollo by the Greeks and Romans at a very early date. They were not known in northern mythology until after the Gallic conquests except among the Huns, who brought them from their original home in Siberia, northern India and the far Orient. The Romans knew of the cock and the hen from Persia.
The dragon - perhaps derived from the dinosaur of ancient times. It typifies the power of demoniacal fury; hence, power, might. This is a Norse symbol. It was adopted by the Chinese to typify sovereignty; also the awful power of pestilence to bring death upon high and low.
The salamander - the symbol of undying faith, because it can live in fire and cold. In heraldry it signifies the brave and generous courage that affliction and defeat cannot subdue.
The four elements are often typified:
Fire by the salamander; air by the eagle, unconquered ambition suggested by its soaring flights earth by the lion, dominant, powerful, the king of beasts; water by the dolphin.
The pelican - symbol of piety and of self-sacrifice. The old legends told that in time of famine the pelican pierced her own breast and fed her young upon her blood. The grapevine is shown here with the pelican.
The lion is used by the Romans as the symbol of the midsummer month of the year; the month of the summer solstice.
The dolphin, king of fish, ruler of the denizens of the sea, in the old French superstition was believed to be the shrewdest fish that swam. In the province of Dauphine, even to this day, the peasants have a festival in which they pass in procession through the streets, carrying as a votive offering to their patron saint a huge fish of pastry from which paper streamers in the form of fish depend. Because at one time the fish from this province saved the people of France in time of famine the King of France named his heir the Dauphin. Among the Greeks the dolphin was sacred to Apollo, because he once took this form. The dolphin signifies the conquest of the sea, and is a favorite emblem for many seaports.
The gorgon - Medusa's head signifies sagacious ferocity; implacability; hate.
The basilisk, king of serpents, whose eyes were so terrible that a glance killed, is the emblem of deadly sin; depravity; evil; and fear begotten of evil.
The serpent, universal object of primitive worship, symbol of wisdom and treachery. Among the Greeks it was the seeing creature, the sign of healing; among the Romans, the strangler; the destroyer. On the caduceus of Mercury it means sleep and craft; among the Christians, the sign of the fall; of subtlety. Shown in a circle with its tail in its mouth is the sign of eternity. The Viscomti family of Italy use it springing from the helmet - the sign of relentless enmity.
The double-headed eagle - used by several countries to show authority over two lands, and used by Spain to show she had possessions in two hemispheres. It was first used in Spain in the arms of Charles I.
The scorpion - emblem of deadly hate; death to a foe. It was included in the arms of the House of Gonzaga. Rodomonte of Gonzaga, favorite of Philip V. of Spain, had it as his personal device, emblazoned: "Who living wounds, in death is herded.''
Pegasus, the beautiful winged horse - in classic allusion symbolizes fame, eloquence, poetic study, contemplation, swiftness of thought, ambition, and creative power.
The signs of the zodiac - these are Arabic and probably run back through the Persian to a Chaldean origin. They are twelve in number: the ram, the bull, the twins, the crab, the lion, the virgin, the scales, the scorpion, the archer, the goat, the water carrier and the fish.
The griffin or gryphon - a creature with the head, neck, wings and talons of an eagle; the hinder parts of a lion; the powers of the cloud-cleaving eagle combined with the strength of the lion; the projecting ears indicating acute sense of hearing. Among the Greeks and throughout all heraldic and symbolic use this is the emblem of violent heroism, strength and vigilance, in later Byzantine symbolism it means the spirit of watchful courage, perseverance, and rapidity of execution. The idea of this most popular symbol probably came originally from the Orient. In India the griffin is used as the symbolic guardian of earthly treasures. Small griffins have been found in ruins in Greece and in India. In Greece the griffin was sacred to Apollo and was one of the very few animal symbols the Greeks used. In Christian symbolism according to Dante, it has a mysterious shape, and joins two natures in one form - the eagle in its spiritual power as king of the air the lion in his strength symbolizing the temporal power on earth. On Gothic churches it might be the union of the divine and human nature.
The obelisk - gnomon of the sundial of the ancient Egyptians. Set with discs it symbolizes the planets known in the days of Ptolemy.
The centaur - or Sagittarius - a sign of the zodiac - half man, half horse. He is holding an arrow on a bended bow. Among the Romans the centaur was sacred to those slain in battle. Among the Greeks it was the emblem of the old Thessalians overwhelmed by Athens; therefore barbarism overcome by civilization. Stephen, husband of Matilda of England, used it as an heraldic blazon after the success of his bowmen in the battle of the Standard.
The phœnix - an imaginary bird; in form like an eagle and of beautiful plumage. It was the bird sacred to the sun. Every five hundred years it built its nest of spices in the heart of the desert of Arabia. This pyre, heated by the sun and fanned by the wings of the phoenix, took fire and consumed the bird. From the ashes a new phœnix soared, to live again five hundred years, ever new, ever beautiful. Therefore, to the Greeks and Romans and to the early Christians it typified resurrection and immortality. The Chinese and Japanese held it sacred and believed that it ascended into heaven with the dragon and that great events would call it to earth again. In heraldry it is always shown rising from flames with its wings expanded. It is a favored emblem among chemists and apothecaries, as it shows the power of rejuvenation. The family of William of Nassau placed it upon their coat of arms to symbolize the sacrifice of his life for his people, for even from his death. The Netherlands arose in new strength. The phœnix is the official emblem of the city of San Francisco - twice risen to new power from her ashes.
A group of golden balls whirling about a central point - used by the Saracens to typify the months of their year, calculated by the phases of the noon. These were thirteen in number.
The gourd - resurrection turning brown and withering away in autumn, its seeds spring to vivid new life in the spring rains.
The laurel leaf crowned the victor in the games and contests of Greece and Rome; hence, means victory.
The lily of Aragon - a Spanish symbol of purity. They are also called Annunciation lilies.
The ram - an Egyptian symbol denoting silence and strength. Jupiter Ammon often took the form of a ram. In the temples of the Jews, in times of festivity, the worshippers were summoned to prayer by blasts on a ram's horn. The acanthus leaf is shown on each side of the ram's head.
The fasces of the Roman lictors - bundles of rods in the center of which was bound an axe to show that the minions of the empire had power to scourge and slay those who did not obey the law; also the rods bound together denote strength to be found in unity.
The grapevine - used among the early Christians to symbolize the lavish gift of Christ hence, redemption, sacrifice.
The scarab - an Egyptian sign. The outstretched wings that spring from beneath the carapace are the sign of death and the indestructible carapace of eternity. Among the priests in Egypt death meant not oblivion, but the after-life. This the ignorant were not allowed to know.
The baton-carried by the consuls and generals of the Cæsars; the sign of the pomp and power of military achievement: later, the sign of conquest. The batons are shown here on each side of a Roman shield.
The seahorse - a mythical creature whose best counterpart is found in the tiny pipe-fish of today. Seahorses were creatures of Neptune, and symbolize the waves as they pursue each other to the shore. The great trading cities used the seahorse as the emblem of the speed of their ships. Cromwell bore it on his arms with the lion to show that he guarded both sea and land.
Pan, the Greek symbol of Nature; not in her destructive, lavish mood; but the all-controlling power of life without its soul.
The bulls' heads or bucrania are emblematic of the gifts of the fields. Among the Greeks the ox drew the plow and after death his bones returned to the dust in the fields his labors had helped to make productive. The bulls at the feast of the harvest, garlanded by flowers, were led by the maidens into the temple, and their blood was poured into the festal urns with oil and wheat and wine. In the height of the glory of Greece the bull was not sacrificed.
The Persian sun cipher - the rays radiating from a central point on a field of blue.
The sphinx - a creature with the head and bust of a woman, the paws of a lion, the body of a dog and the tail of a dragon. Among the Egyptians the sphinx represented physical and mental power. It was the symbol of royal dignity, wisdom and strength; of profound theological mystery. Sphinxes are black, in allusion to the obscure nature of the Deity. The white head-dress may suggest the linen tiara of the priests. The belief is growing that the sphinx was symbolical of the bountiful overflow of the Nile which happened when the sun was in the signs of Leo and Virgo, the beast and the woman suggested in its body, and that it had its name from this circumstance, for in the language of the Chaldeans the name "sphinx" means overflow. Among the Greeks, who undoubtedly took the idea from the Egyptians, the sphinx was changed. Wings were added and the face lost its Nubian character and assumed its more classic and sharply chiselled features. The real Egyptian sphinx is never winged.
The egg and dart - emblems of fertility. This is shown surrounding the arms of the seaport of Barcelona.
The chimera was an imaginary fire-breathing monster of great swiftness and strength. It had the head of a lion, the body of a goat, the tail of a dog, and the feet of a dragon. It was used by Philip II. of Spain after his marriage with Mary Tudor to symbolize the heresy of England which he purposed to destroy.
These signs have been used by the architects mostly in their conventional sense and purely as matters of decoration, they all however, have a definite origin and were originally used as symbols for the expression of definite thought and meaning.