An emblem is a pictorial image, abstract or representational, that epitomizes a concept — e.g., a moral truth, or an allegory — or that represents a person, such as a king or saint.

Distinction: emblem and symbol

The words emblem and "symbol" often appear interchangeably in day-to-day conversation without causing undue confusion. A distinction between the two may seem unnecessarily fastidious. Nevertheless, an emblem is a pattern that is used to represent an idea, or an individual. An emblem crystallizes in concrete, visual terms some abstraction: a deity, a tribe or nation, a virtue or a vice. An emblem is an object or a representation of an object.

An emblem may be worn or otherwise used as an identifying badge. A real or metal cockle shell, the emblem of St James the Apostle, sewn onto the hat or clothes identified a medieval pilgrim to his shrine at Santiago de Compostela. In the Middle Ages, many saints were given emblems, which served to identify them in paintings and other
St Catherine had a wheel, or a sword, St Anthony Abbot a pig and a small bell. These are also called attributes, especially when shown carried by or in close proximity to the saint in art. Kings and other grand persons increasingly adopted personal devices or emblems that were distinct from their family heraldry. The most famous include Louis XIV of France's sun, the salamander of Francois I, the boar of Richard III of England and the armillary sphere of Manuel I of Portugal. In the fifteenth and sixteenth century there was a fashion, started in Italy, for making large medals with a portrait head on the obverse and the emblem on the reverse; these would be given to friends and as diplomatic gifts. Pisanello produced many of the earliest and finest of these.In current American usage, police officers' "badges" refer specifically to their personal metal emblem — sometimes with a uniquely identifying number or name on it — while the woven "emblems" sewn on their uniforms identify all the members of a particular unit.

A symbol substitutes one thing for another, in a more concrete fashion:
* The Christian cross is a "symbol" of the Crucifixion; it is an "emblem" of sacrifice.
* The Red Cross is a "symbol" of the International Red Cross. A red cross on a white flag is the "emblem" of the humanitarian spirit.
* The crescent shape is a "symbol" of the moon; it is an "emblem" of Islam.
* The skull and crossbones is an "symbol" identifying a poison. The skull is an "emblem" of the transitory human life.

Other terminology

A totem is specifically an animal emblem that expresses the spirit of a clan. Heraldry knows its emblems as "charges". The lion passant serves as the emblem of England, the lion rampant as the emblem of Scotland.

An icon consists of an image (originally a religious image), that has become standardized by convention. A logo is an impersonal, secular icon, usually of a corporate entity.

Emblems in history

Since the 15th century the terms of emblem (emblema) and emblematura belong to the "termini technici" of architecture. They mean an iconic painted, drawn, or sculptural representation of a concept affixed to houses and belong — like the inscriptions — to the architectural ornaments (ornamenta). Since the publication of "De architectura libri decem" by Leon Battista Alberti (14041472) the emblems (emblema) are related to Egyptian hieroglyphics and are considered as being a secret iconic language. Therefore the emblems belong to the Renaissance knowledge of antiquity which comprises not only Greek and Roman antiquity but also Egyptian antiquity as proven by the numerous obelisks built in 16th and 17th century Rome.

The 1531 publication in Augsburg of the first emblem book, the "Emblemata" of the Italian jurist Andrea Alciato launched a fascination with emblems that lasted two centuries and touched most of the countries of western Europe. "Emblem" in this sense refers to a didactic or moralizing combination of picture and text intended to draw the reader into a self-reflective examination of his or her own life. Complicated associations of emblems could transmit information to the culturally-informed viewer, a characteristic of the 16th century artistic movement called Mannerism.

See also

* National emblem
* Symbol
* Emblem book
* Meme
*Saint symbology
* Coat of Arms

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Emblem — Em blem, n. [F. embl[ e]me, L. emblema, atis, that which is put in or on, inlaid work, fr. Gr. ? a thing put in or on, fr. ? to throw, lay, put in; ? in + ? to throw. See {In}, and {Parable}.] 1. Inlay; inlaid or mosaic work; something ornamental …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Emblem — Sn Sinnbild, Kennzeichen per. Wortschatz fach. (16. Jh., Form 18. Jh.) Entlehnung. Entlehnt aus l. emblēma Einlegearbeit , aus gr. émblēma, einem Nomen acti zu gr. embállein einlegen , zu gr. bállein treffen, werfen . Zuerst als Emblema entlehnt …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • Emblem — Emblem …   Wikipédia en Français

  • emblem — UK US /ˈembləm/ noun [C] ► MARKETING something such as a picture which is a symbol for a particular person, organization, group, or idea: »The merchandise carries the Alfa Romeo emblem. »The leather goods manufacturer began to be seen an emblem… …   Financial and business terms

  • Emblem — Em blem, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Emblemed}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Embleming}.] To represent by an emblem; to symbolize. [R.] [1913 Webster] Emblemed by the cozening fig tree. Feltham …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • emblem — [em′bləm] n. [orig., inlaid work < L emblema < Gr emblēma, insertion < emballein < en , in + ballein, to throw, put: see BALL2] 1. Historical a picture with a motto or verses, allegorically suggesting some moral truth, etc. 2. a… …   English World dictionary

  • Emblem — (v. gr. Emblēma), 1) bei den Griechen Verzierungen an goldenen u. silbernen, auch ehernen Gefäßen, welche beliebig davon abgenommen werden konnten u. entweder aus edlen Metallen, od. auch aus Bernstein bestanden. Bei den Römern führten diese… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Emblēm — (griech.), eigentlich eingelegte Arbeit, daher bei den Alten Name von Werken der bildenden Kunst, und zwar der Toreutik, die an silbernen, goldenen und ehernen Gefäßen angebracht und in späterer Zeit öfters abnehmbar waren. Die Embleme, bei den… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Emblem — Emblem, ursprünglich dekorativ behandeltes Werk der Kleinkunst, abnehmbar und an andre Objekte angepaßt, so z.B. eine reich verzierte innere Schüssel, die in eine einfache äußere eingelegt wurde. Heute versteht man darunter die sinnbildliche… …   Lexikon der gesamten Technik

  • Emblem — Emblēm (grch.), Kennzeichen, Sinnbild, bildliche Bezeichnung (z.B. des Schlosserhandwerks durch Schloß und Schlüssel [Abb. 504]); emblemātisch, sinnbildlich …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Emblem — Emblem, griech., eigentl. eingelegte Arbeit; sinnbildliche Darstellung, z.B. Lorbeerzweig, den Ruhm bedeutend; emblematisch, sinnbildlich …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

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