The Sun in Art: Symbolism and Meaning Behind the Golden Radiance

The sun has been a muse for writers, painters, and artists likely since the beginning of the human experience. It is often used to symbolize the divine, happiness, life, and energy. The art of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome is filled with depictions of the sun god or solar deities in all their glory. In many art pieces from these periods, the sun rises from the horizon and illuminates the world. Ecclesiastes refers to life “under the sun” a total of 19 times. These references combined with other symbolic art show just how powerful an image the sun can be. 

Relief from the sanctuary of Khonsu Temple

In ancient Egyptian art and writing, the sun is often used to symbolize the divine. It is also a representation of happiness and life. To early Egyptians, the gods were believed to have descended from the sky and given their power to humans through the sun’s rays. 

In Greek and Roman art, the sun is often depicted as either Helios or Apollo, both of which are associated with healing and light. The sun in these pieces of artwork is shown either rising from or descending into a water source, showing that it brings life-giving energy to all living beings.

Sundial on the Church of Saint Rupert in the village Šentrupert, Slovenia.

In modern times, we see interpretations of this symbolism everywhere – on flags, on currency, and in advertisements for companies that are thriving in sunlight. Even though our understanding of this symbolism has changed over time, it remains an essential theme in contemporary art today.

Ecclesiastes: Life Under the Sun

Ecclesiastes is a book in the Bible that discusses life “under the sun” and how to live it. It’s an unconventional book on many different levels, with several paradoxical themes. 

In the book, the Teacher warns about chasing after material goods and living for today because tomorrow doesn’t exist. But the Teacher also encourages the reader to enjoy life’s pleasures because everything under the sun is meaningless. That seems pretty confusing, but Ecclesiastes isn’t trying to convey shortcuts to wisdom, hope, and joy. It’s often used as a philosophical guide for life or as a reminder that the human experience is anything but simple.

Original Work by Anne Lilje, 2019. 

The Sun in Modern and Pop Art

Today we can see depictions of sun gods in many different forms in pop culture. Portrayals of the sun appear on everything from home decor to jewelry, skateboards, and socks. Our society will continue to find inspiration from this powerful star that lights up our world every day in any form it may take.

The sun is a powerful symbol, and the sun in art is more than just a motif—it’s an important philosophical idea. Whether it’s a ceiling in Pompeii, a carving in Egypt, or a resin tchotchke at HomeGoods, the sun has been lighting up works of art for centuries.

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