Graduation Date

5-2019

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Emphasis

Art History

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Program Name

Humanities

Program Director

Joan Baranow, PhD

First Reader

Joan Baranow, PhD

Second Reader

Sandra Chin, MA

Abstract

This master’s thesis studies the ways in which the honey bee is used as a symbol in Western art, specifically between the 1st century AD and the 17th century. Artists have had a close relationship with honey bees since they first drew scenes of life on cave walls; since then, honey bees have been a recurring image featured in artworks spanning centuries, cultures, and religions. During the Renaissance in Europe, the honey bee was adapted from a symbol associated with fertility and polytheistic cult rituals to become a symbol of eloquence in Christianity. The community-based, diligent nature of the honey bee resulting in the surplus of sweet honey helps to explain the continued representation of the honey bee in art. Considering the complex nature of the honey bee’s role in human life, it is plain to see why artists have gravitated towards the honey bee for use as a symbol for centuries. By studying the symbolism of the bee in several works of art from the Renaissance and before – Artemis of Ephesus from the 2nd century CE, Venus With Cupid Stealing Honey by Lucas Cranach the Elder from 1472, The Miracle of the Bees by Juan de Valdes Leal painted in 1673, and finally the tomb of Pope Urban VIII sculpted by Gianlorenzo Bernini between 1627 and 1647 — I intend to explore the meanings behind the relationship between the honey bee and the culture that produced these works of art and the way that it continues to steadily evolve and adapt to suit the time and the artist’s portrayal.

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