Allegory: A series of symbols existing harmoniously in a larger system of meaning. While a symbol most often takes the place of a letter, word, or image, such as the cross as a symbol of Christianity, allegory takes symbolism one step further by using images and/or stories to stand in for other ideas or abstract concepts. Picasso’s Guernica, rooted in events from the Spanish Civil War, works as an allegory for total war. (Disputed symbols include the wounded horse and the bull, representing Republican Spain and fascism, respectively.) From the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, the primacy of abstract art made the use of allegory seem out of date. But with the advent of postmodernism and a return to figurative and narrative works, allegory has again flourished. Modernists Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, and Jose Clemente Orozco make use of allegory, as do postmodernists Anselm Kiefer and Francisco Clemente.

Excerpted from: Diamond, David G. The Bulfinch Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Boston: Little Brown, 1992.

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