A celestial globe. / British Library, London, UK / © British Library Board. All Rights Reserved

What’s your sign? The Art of the Zodiac

Do you believe your personality is mapped out in the stars? Read below to check if your zodiac sign rings true and see which artist shares your temperament.

First, some background info…

Over the course of history every civilization from the Egyptians to the staunchly-Catholic Middle Ages considered astrology to be a legitimate scientific pursuit.

Western astrology is believed to have been founded by Ptolemy, an Egyptian astronomer in the 2nd century, with the release of his extensive manuscript on ancient astrology entitled The Tetrabiblos or “Four Books.” Ptolemy’s theory of the earth as the fixed center of the universe stood firm for over a millennium and was even an accepted doctrine of the Catholic Church, until Copernicus and Galileo presented the sun-centered system in its place in the 17th century.

Artists and Their Zodiacs Revealed

Aries, the Ram, Persian, from Isfahan or Shiraz, c.1600 (ink on paper) by Persian School, (17th century) Private Collection © Bonhams, London, UK
Aries, the Ram, Persian, from Isfahan or Shiraz, c.1600 (ink on paper) by Persian School, (17th century) Private Collection © Bonhams, London, UK

Aries (March 21 – April 20)

Symbolized by the ram, an animal known for great courage, Aries is the first sign of the Zodiac which begins at the Spring Equinox. Aries arises from the Greek myth whereby the King of Thessaly’s children, upon being abused by their stepmother, were rescued by a ram with a golden fleece.

The Los Caprichos series by Goya, a critique of the foolishness of 18th century Spanish society, are the perfect example of Arian confidence, energy and wit.

The White Bull, 1999 (oil on board) by Mark Adlington, Bridgeman Studio Artist
The White Bull, 1999 (oil on board) by Mark Adlington, Bridgeman Studio Artist

Taurus (April 21 – May 21)

Prized for its strength and stamina the bull represents Taurus, the second sign of the Zodiac. According to Greek mythology, Zeus fell in love with Princess Europa and, disguised as a white bull, he took her to Crete and made her his mistress.

John James Audubon, in his commitment to his life’s work of studying all species of American birds, exhibited Taurian dedication and patience. Salvador Dali, on the other side of the Taurian coin, was well known for his strong opinions and stubborn streak.

Small in Between, 2007 (w/c on handmade indian rag paper) by Graham
Small in Between, 2007 (w/c on handmade indian rag paper) by Graham

Gemini (May 22 – June 21)

Geminis are often associated with storytellers, communicators and youth. They are also represented by twins brothers Castor and Pollux who, in Greek mythology, were hatched from the egg of their mother Leda following her seduction by Zeus disguised as a swan.

Albrecht Durer’s reputation as one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance period, reinforced by his work in the principles of mathematics, perspective and ideal proportions, is a testament to his Gemini traits of adaptability, intelligence and restlessness.

Cancer, 2009 (gilded birch plywood) by Cristina Rodriguez
Cancer, 2009 (gilded birch plywood) by Cristina Rodriguez

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)

The fourth sign of the Zodiac, Cancer, derives from the Latin word for “crab.” In Greek mythology the crab was sent to distract Hercules during his fight with Hydra, and when Hercules crushed the crab with his foot it was placed among the stars as a reward for its sacrifice. Cancer is known as peacemaker in the Zodiac. Cancerians are very cautious and intuitive and although their sensitivity can make them highly aggressive, they are an imaginative and creative group.

In a very Cancerian way, James McNeill Whistler’s subtle and delicate paintings stand in contrast to his combative public persona.

Ms 724/1596 Fol.38v The Lion and the Swine, from 'Liber Floridus' by Lambert de Saint-Omer, c.1448 (vellum)  Musee Conde, Chantilly, France
Ms 724/1596 Fol.38v The Lion and the Swine, from ‘Liber Floridus’ by Lambert de Saint-Omer, c.1448 (vellum) Musee Conde, Chantilly, France

Leo (July 23 – August 21)

Also known as the Sign of the King, Leos are considered the most dominant, creative and extroverted of all the signs. Leo’s symbolism is derived from the lion Hercules wrestled to death and then used as body protection against his fight with Hydra. Born leaders they are either in support of, or in revolt against, the status quo.

American painter Thomas Eakins, with his leadership qualities and his devoted support of the new art form of photography, exhibited the best traits of a Leo. His patronizing nature and inflated sense of self also exhibited, however, the worst.

Vendemiaire (September/October), first month of the Republican Calendar, engraved by Tresca, c.1794 (coloured engraving) by Louis Lafitte, Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet, Paris, France; Giraudon
Vendemiaire (September/October), first month of the Republican Calendar, engraved by Tresca, c.1794 (coloured engraving) by Louis Lafitte, Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet, Paris, France; Giraudon

Virgo (August 22 – September 23)

Virgo is the sixth sign of the Zodiac and is represented by a virgin, often holding sheaves of wheat or an ear of corn, emphasizing her role as a goddess of fertility and agriculture. The only zodiac sign to be represented by a female, Virgos are thought to have an intelligent and controlled manner, but one that is also driven by perfectionism.

Jacques Louis David’s deliberate, controlled and linear neoclassical paintings such as the Oath of the Horatii and the Death of Marat exemplify Virgo qualities.

Constellation of Libra, from 'Uranometria' by Johann Bayer, engraved by Alexander Mair (1559-c.1616) 1603 (hand-coloured copper engraving); Private Collection; The Stapleton Collection
Constellation of Libra, from ‘Uranometria’ by Johann Bayer, engraved by Alexander Mair (1559-c.1616) 1603 (hand-coloured copper engraving); Private Collection; The Stapleton Collection

Libra (September 24 – October 23)

The name Libra literally translates to “weighing scales” in Latin. Its main association is that of justice, the scales therefore symbolize balance and equilibrium. Libras are usually diplomatic and charming but warrant elements of indecisiveness and self-indulgence.

A true libra, American historical illustrator Frederic Remington’s larger than life personality gained him access to a large social network; he counted Theodore Roosevelt as a lifelong friend. His tendency to overindulge and become portly later in life rounds out his libran tendencies.

Scorpio represented by the scorpion, from a series of reliefs depicting planetary symbols and signs of the zodiac, c.1450 (plaster) by Agostino di Duccio(1418-c.81); Chapel of the Planets, Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini, Italy
Scorpio represented by the scorpion, from a series of reliefs depicting planetary symbols and signs of the zodiac, c.1450 (plaster) by Agostino di Duccio; Chapel of the Planets, Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini, Italy

Scorpio (October 24 – November 22)

Scorpio is associated with beginnings and endings. The scorpion comes from the Ancient Greek myth about the scorpion who finally killed the great hunter, Orion. Scorpios are considered to be emotionally reserved, observant, and usually powerful figures but they can also be obsessive. It is often alleged that there is a Scorpio curse, which has been blamed for the misfortune and violent deaths of many notable figures, including Marie Antoinette, Charles I of England and Captain James Cook.

Pablo Picasso’s intense personal life with many marriages (and affairs) and his highly introspective, emotional and prolific body of work are indicative of his Scorpio nature.

Sagittarius, from the Zodiac Window, 13th century (stained glass) by French School; Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France
Sagittarius, from the Zodiac Window, 13th century (stained glass) by French School; Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France

Sagittarius (November 23 – December 22)

The ninth sign of the Zodiac, Sagittarius is identified as a hunting centaur (half human, half horse). This sign signifies the search for truth and knowledge, as well as a constant pursuit of adventure and new ideas. Sagittarians are considered to be spontaneous and enthusiastic, but also notoriously unlucky in relationships and can be restless or risk takers.

Diego Rivera displayed his sagittarian nature distinctly, with his controversial affiliations and political beliefs, and his on-again-off-again relationship with fellow artist, Frida Kahlo.

Ms E-7 fol.29b The Constellations of Sagittarius and Capricorn, illustration from 'The Wonders of the Creation and the Curiosities of Existence' by Zakariya'ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (gouache on paper), (14th century); Institute of Oriental Studies, St. Petersburg, Russia
Ms E-7 fol.29b The Constellations of Sagittarius and Capricorn, illustration from ‘The Wonders of the Creation and the Curiosities of Existence’ by Zakariya’ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (gouache on paper), (14th century); Institute of Oriental Studies, St. Petersburg, Russia

Capricorn (December 23 – January 20)

Capricorn is traditionally depicted as a goat with a fish’s tail (a “Seagoat”), stemming from the myth of Pan, a goat-god attacked by Typhon and driven into the Nile; with its parts above water remaining goat but those under water transformed into fish. Capricorns are ambitious and their lives are marked by a purposeful pursuit of their destiny.

As a child, Henri Matisse decided to become an artist, with his extremely successful career spanning over a half-century. Negative traits include being greedy and overcritical. Matisse was known to be in debt due to his insatiable need to own works from artists he admired.

Aquarius, from the Signs of the Zodiac (oil on canvas) by Jacob Jordaens, Palais du Luxembourg, Paris, France; Giraudon;
Aquarius, from the Signs of the Zodiac (oil on canvas) by Jacob Jordaens, Palais du Luxembourg, Paris, France; Giraudon

Aquarius (January 21 – February 19)

Linked to Ganymede, the beautiful youth whom Zeus fell in love with and carried off to Olympus to be ‘cup-bearer’ to the gods, Aquarius has also been attributed to the pourer of the waters in the ancient Greek version of the Great Flood. Positive traits for those born under this sign include honesty, popularity and creativity, unfortunately they are also plagued with inefficiency and hesitancy.

Abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, an aquarian, enjoyed incredible fame and notoriety during his lifetime for his groundbreaking “drip” method, but also battled personal demons that abruptly cut his career, and life, short.

The Goldfish from China, 1749-73 (coloured engraving) by George Edwards © Purix Verlag Volker Christen
The Goldfish from China, 1749-73 (coloured engraving) by George Edwards © Purix Verlag Volker Christen

Pisces (February 20 – March 20)

Pisces is the twelfth sign of the Zodiac and represented by the fish that Aphrodite and Eros transformed into while escaping the monster Typhon. People born under this sign are often regarded as psychic, able to read your true intentions simply by studying your gestures and body language, and they will trust actions more than words. Pisces are ambitious, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, but they can be easily irritated and insensitive towards others.

Michelangelo exhibited true piscean nature with his extraordinary understanding of human anatomy and movement. He was also known to have exacted revenge on several enemies by painting them in the hell scene of the Last Judgment.

 

Find out more

Astrology – view more images in the Bridgeman archive

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