The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Emblem and symbol are often used interchangeably in day-to-day conversation without harm.

A distinction may be considered unnecessarily fastidious. Nevertheless, an emblem is a pattern that is used to represent an idea. More specifically, an emblem is a pictorial image, abstract or representational, that epitomizes a moral truth or allegory. 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 a object. An emblem may be worn or otherwise used as identifying badge. A metal emblem of a cockle shell sewn onto the hat identied a medieval pilgrim to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela. In current American usage, a police officer's badge refers specifically to his/her personal metal emblem sometimes with a uniquely identifying number or name on it, while the woven emblems sewn on his/her uniform identify all the members of that particular unit.

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 Leon Battista Alberti's De architectura libri decem 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 the Egyptian antiquity as it is being proved by the numerous obelisks that were 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.

A totem is specifically an animal emblem that expresses the spirit of a clan. A heraldic emblem is called a charge. The lion passant is the emblem of England, the lion rampant the emblem of Scotland.

A symbol substitutes one thing for another, in a less concrete fashion: the Christian cross is a symbol of sacrifice; it is an emblem of the Crucifixion. A red cross on a white flag is the emblem of the International Red Cross. The Red Cross is a symbol 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 emblem identifying a poison. The skull is a symbol of the transitory human life.

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

See also

Last updated: 06-02-2005 04:33:43
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46