Shoes as Symbols in Art
The subject of desire
Golden sandals of AphroditeSandals are the oldest shoes. Up to now this favorite shoe model has taken its place in the ancient art.
Gustave Flaubert admired the sandals of the ancient Greece on the legs of the Apollo Belvedere statue; he highly appreciated the exquisitely crafted twisted straps demonstrating sculpturesque genius of Greek masters. What a composition of decoration and nudity! What a harmony of the form and content! The feet were created for shoes and the shoes were created for the feet!
The most well-known among them is the Aphrodite, Eros and Pan, c. 100 BC, from Delos. The charming woman tries with a sandal to keep Pan, a goat-legged forest creature, at a distance. A small winged flying Eros watches amused the situation (or actually helps Pan to approach Aphrodite). Aphrodite the goddess of love seems not to be always willing for an erotic adventure. When it comes to her sandals (the goddess is nude), we can say they are a symbol for femininity.
The barefooted righteous and mailed kightsPut in other words a notorious phrase popular in the Soviet Union, that sex had never existed there, we could say that no legs were painted in the artworks of the Early Christianity. Everything related to flesh was dogmatically rejected and masked in folds of robes. So, unlike the gorgeous Byzantine style the medieval shoes had no decorations, nether embroidery nor ornaments. Dresses were strict and formal and shoes were integral parts of them.
When it comes to religious subjects all the canonical characters were depicted barefooted like in the artworks the Creation of Adam, the Creation of Eve, the Expulsion from the Garden of Paradise and others by Master Bertram of Minden (1340 — 1414).
So, in his artwork the Knighting of St. Martin (1320 — 1322) Simone Martini pictured the court everyday life and the scene of Martin’s investiture: the Roman Emperor fastens the sword around the knight’s waist and attires spurs. We could assume that the event was significant. (The artist is supposed to be knighted by the King Robert of Anjou and depicted an actual investiture).
His boots indicated that he won Goliath due to the knowledge imparted him by the prophet Samuel. At the same time the sculptor highlighted the status of David; according to the old Jewish tradition, only noble people had shoes and wore them outside, poor people were barefooted or had rough boots made of leather and wood.
Cozy house and strong marriageDuring the Renaissance era in the XVI century respectable citizens had to wear indoor slippers. In the memories of a lot of people of that time slippers were mentioned as a symbol of comfort and fidelity to the marriage vows.
In his artwork the The Arnolfini Portrait (1434), Jan van Eyck depicted a pair of pattens embodying the martial fidelity. The bridegroom is portrayed barefooted standing on the wooden floor, his wooden pattens are on the floor next to him. The legs of the bride are covered with her robe, the other pair of pattens is depicted on the background next to the bed.
Glamour in the acqua alta times
One of the most contradictory models of shoes discussed by art experts is the Venetian chopines (wedge shoes), which you can see in the painting the Two Venetian ladies by Vittore Carpaccio (1460/1465 — 1526). Till the present day the question whether the ladies are courtesans or not is still under discussion.
Royal shoesThe centuries revolved, dresses progressively became shorter and shorter and dandies had a chance to make boast of the decorations of their gorgeous clothes. We are not going to discuss changing in style and shape of shoes, which were made either longer or shorter. We cannot but mention heels (the higher the more notable a person was); Louis XIV, a king of France known as a French fashion-monger became a trendsetter.
The Sun King was proud of his beautiful legs and his elegant shoes. He, as a king, made a decision that red high heels (decorated with battle pieces) were his own prerogative. So red heels became a symbol for the royal power.
A token of affectionOne could hardly conceive of a courteous chevalier amorously kissing a chopine of his ladylove (keeping in mind the size of the shoe model). So, in the XVIII century stunning mule shoes came into fashion from the Oriental countries and only rich people afforded them. They were were usually high heeled, backless and often closed-toe. Noble ladies and dandies wore them indoors and craftsmen made them of expensive outlandish materials, decorated them with gold, gems, feathers of exotic birds, silk embroideries and pieces of fur. Those household articles in paintings demonstrated domesticity and prosperity of the pictured family.
Read more Symbolism (фр. Symbolisme) is an art movement that has been reflected in painting, literature and music. It emerged in the 1870s-80s in France, later spread to Belgium, Norway and the Russian Empire. It reached the peak of popularity at the turn of the XІX-XX centuries. Symbolism is characterized by sadness, introspection and understatement: as if the author came to quiet despair, but was too shy to talk about these feelings, so he painted them.