Author: Virginia McBride

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What’s Your Sign?
What do balls, goats, and turtles have in common? …They’re all symbols of a powerful man. In 1570, Cosimo I de’ Medici opened the Laurentian Library in Florence, realizing a decades-long project to house and promote his family’s vast collection of scholarly manuscripts.[1] This drawing shows a design for one of the library’s stained glass...
Taming a Scaly Sphinx
An oarsman reclines on a sphinx’s scaly tail in this design for a pendant. Enameled, bejeweled, and dangling from a noblewoman’s gown, the imperious sphinx would appear fully tamed. Like the other marine monsters in this series of pendant designs by Hans Collaert, she symbolizes the sea’s abundance, harnessed by Flemish fishermen and merchants. These...
Pleasures and Perils of the Tongue
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” warns a proverbial inscription on a knife blade imagined by Francesco Salviati. Knife handles further illustrate the tongue’s pleasures and perils, and these sensuous yet violent scenes seem to caution diners about to indulge. On one handle, a figure risks a snakebite to reach into...
Designers Take Aim
Aim—pull—release! This archer draws back his bowstring and prepares to shoot. Peering into the distance, he points his arrow off the poster’s printed page. But designer Richard Roland Holst leaves no doubt about his target: a bullseye hovers just above his head, bearing the Dutch words for “Livelihood.” In this poster promoting the Labor Board...
Horizontal red and black poster in which two military leaders pull a cart of symbolic figures across a field. Behind the cart, three figures are sprawled on the ground. Red and white Cyrillic text is printed in the top right.
A Graphic Field of Bayonets
In this Soviet poster designed by Dmitri Moor, cartoonish figures trek across a dark landscape transformed by war. Along the lower border, Moor substitutes bloody bayonets for blades of grass, implying that Soviet land is hostile to these travelers, all of whom are enemies of the Bolshevik cause. The poster satirizes Soviet adversaries in both...
A shirtless man sets fire to the monumental figures of the Church, the Tsar, and the Bourgeoisie. These figures in red, with features grotesquely abstracted, appear to be carved from stone. The man is naturalistically rendered by comparison. The title is printed in red Cyrillic on a yellow ground.
Toppling Monumental Foes
The huge figures dominating the composition of this Soviet poster stand as grotesque monuments to Russia’s imperial past. Labeled pedestals identify them as priest, tsar, and bourgeoisie—all cruel oppressors in the eyes of the new regime. Their rough-hewn faces crudely caricature the elegant, ostentatious sculptures of past tsars, and they tower over two naturalistically rendered...
Six blocks of text outlining Stalin's 1931 "Six Conditions" speech overlap a black and white photo of Stalin. Additional quotes from the speech, printed in red and black Cyrillic appear to the right of Stalin's head at an angle against a cream-colored section. Above this, the speech's title appears in red, against a grey background.
Designing for a Dictator
Bold text surrounds a black-and-white photograph of Joseph Stalin in this Soviet poster from 1931. The poster was designed to reinforce the tenets of a speech by the leader, delivered to a meeting of industrial managers in June of the same year. The speech outlined six conditions for new industrial development, all of which are...
Poster depicting a town view with buildings and scaffolding in the background under large clouds. Large arms coming from above hold a book open to an audience of men (workers) holding signs. All look to a man, standing on a tall platform, pointing to the book.
From Lenin’s Lips to God’s Hands
You don’t need to read Russian to understand this Soviet poster. Two larger-than-life hands lower a huge book from the sky, holding it open for all to read. Crowds flock to the book, extending as far as the eye can see. In unmistakable visual language, designer Sergei Ivanov conveys the importance of literacy—a crucial issue...
A phalanx of soldiers stands at the center of the poster, waving red flags. A title beneath them reads "The 1st of May." They are flanked by peasants and workers. An angular, modern cityscape rises behind them.
Between Heaven and Earth: Icons of the Revolution
With raised flags and soaring spirits, soldiers, sailors, workers, and peasants rally together in this Soviet poster by Nikolai Kogout. United, they celebrate May first, International Workers’ Day. Conceived as a labor strike for an eight-hour workday, the holiday was adopted by Soviet leaders to commemorate the struggle of proletarian workers around the world. In...