Why are doves a symbol of peace

ICON OVERVIEW

The dove is an ancient and powerful symbol. [1] In terms of religion and culture, it was significant as a symbolically charged animal for thousands of years before Christ. For example, she was one of the iconographic attributes of the Mesopotamian Ishtar as well as the Greek Aphrodite and the Roman Venus: all three goddesses were closely related to fertility and love. In literature and painting, the doves are therefore still today a symbol of love and femininity, but also a symbol of peace. In addition to the pagan Venus motif, this symbolism has very pronounced Christian roots. In the European pictorial tradition, doves are not only symbolic of the church, the apostles or the preaching of the Lord, i.e. the divine begetting of Jesus with the Virgin Mary, but in particular also represent the Holy Spirit (Fig. 1). In the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, this "Spiritus sanctus" is the third person of the triune God alongside the Father and Son (i.e. Jesus). The connection between the dove and the spirit is not an invention of European painting; this connection already exists in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Mark the spirit only seems to resemble a dove: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he got out of the water, he saw that the sky opened and the spirit came down on him like a dove. ”(Mk 1: 9-10; similar to Mt 3: 16) [2] In the Gospel of Luke, however, takes he actually took the form of a dove: “Jesus was baptized together with all the people. And while he was praying the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit visibly came down on him in the form of a dove. ”(Lk 3: 21-22)

In Judaism, pigeon breeding (as in ancient Greece and then in the Roman Empire) was widespread since pre-Christian times. Another main root of the Christian pigeon iconography is laid out in the Old Testament. There, for example, in the book of Leviticus (5: 7–11) you can find instructions on the sacrifice of doves and in the Song of Solomon (1:15; 5:12) eyes are metaphorically equated with doves. In terms of visual history, however, the book of Genesis has probably become the most powerful in this regard. It tells of a deluge that God caused to punish people for their wickedness. Only Noah (aka Noach) and his family can save themselves because of a divine warning that gave them the time to build an ark. Numerous animals also survive on this floating box, the legendary Noah's Ark. For God commanded Noah: “Of all that lives, of all beings of flesh, bring two each into the ark, so that they may live with you; There should be one male and one female each. Of all kinds of birds, of all kinds of livestock, of all kinds of reptiles on the ground, two each shall come to you so that they may stay alive. ”(Gen 6:20) The good news of the end of the flood will come to an end finally brought on a long journey by the pigeon that Noah sent out as a scout: “In its beak it had a fresh olive branch. Now Noah knew that there was little water left on the earth. ”(Ibid. 8:11) The iconography of the dove with the olive branch, which is still popular today, goes back to this passage in the Bible.

Together with the Roman Empire, the “rat of the air” conquered Central Europe and is now spread around the world in human settlements. The breeding of pedigree pigeons has resulted in a wide variety of head shapes, plumage and colors. Due to natural mutations, white pigeons appear again and again, which were also specially bred in pre-Christian times. Today, the white dove can be regarded as the ultimate political and iconographic symbol of peace. A connection between the bird and the idea of ​​reconciliation can already be constructed in the Old Testament, for example: The above-mentioned flood in the Book of Genesis ultimately leads to a peace treaty between God and man after the dove with the olive branch (also an ancient symbol of peace) has returned . So while it served for a long time as a symbol with religious connotations, the dove of peace has also been firmly established in political iconography since the early modern period at the latest. The Spaniard Pablo Ruiz Picasso (Fig. 2, Fig. 3) has a not to be underestimated part of their extraordinary presence in the technically reproducible imagery of modernism. In the course of his eventful life (1881–1973), this artist picked up on, processed and shaped the most varied of styles in paintings, graphics and sculptures. Picasso was a long time a member of the French Communist Party. Many of the Spaniards' works are of an explicitly political nature and are received accordingly. For example, there was heated debate in France in 1953 over a portrait of Stalin that Picasso had made and published on the occasion of the death of the Soviet dictator. The painting “Guernica” from 1937 is far better known than this charcoal drawing. This monumental work was a commentary on the Spanish Civil War, the horror of which it translated into a Christian-inspired symbolism of splintering forms and expressive pathos formulas. Today “Guernica” is considered to be the key image of European, but also global pacifism in the 20th century. This also includes another work by Picasso, written twelve years later. In this case it is a poster that was printed on the occasion of the “World Congress of Peace Fighters” in Paris in 1949 (Fig. 2). [3] The image above the words “CONGRÈS MONDIAL DES PARTISANS DE LA PAIX” shows a white dove; it had already been created on January 9, 1949 as an ink painting from a series of lithographs. At that time Picasso had been living in France for a long time and had been a member of the French Communist Party for several years, which explains his commitment to the communist-oriented peace congress. This took place from April 20 to 25, 1949 in the Paris “Salle Pleyel” and directed its propaganda in particular against the nuclear power USA. The dove of peace immediately became the subject of political commentary and caricatures in various mass media (similar to the Stalin portrait mentioned above). For a World Peace Congress planned in England the following year, Picasso again created a poster motif, "The Dove in Flight". The artist then designed other versions of a “rainbow dove” or an “atomized dove” in connection with the Vienna Peace Congress of 1952. Picasso's pigeon pictures were also created later, such as a work from 1961 that he made for the French Drafted peace movement (Fig. 3). The bird is only marked by an outline and carries the Old Testament olive branch in its beak: This simple motif is nowadays popular with pacifists as “the” dove of Picasso [http://www.kidsweb.de/friedenstaube/minations]. html]. Even before Picasso, doves of peace were painted. But Picasso's bird pictures had a lasting impact on political iconography of the 20th century by firmly establishing the dove in the communist repertoire of symbols: Despite its Christian roots, the dove had now also arrived in the atheist iconography of Marxist and other left movements. In the time of the East-West conflict, reproductions and variations of “doves of peace” were part of the official imagery of Eastern European state socialism (Fig. 4).

The dove was never limited to Europe as a symbol, although the imagery associated with it (as shown) is deeply rooted in Christian iconography. Today the dove of peace is a globally understandable symbol. It is by no means only put into the picture by Christian and Communist groups, but rather used as a symbol by numerous differently motivated movements (Fig. 5, Fig. 6). The Finnish graphic artist, who in the mid-1970s stylized one of the world's most widespread peace dove motifs - a white dove with a forked tail on a blue background (Fig. 5, Fig. 7, Fig. 8) - is while not being as famous as his predecessor Picasso. [4] But the dove symbolism remains relevant: even for the more recent efforts to strengthen a common European identity, it has become (indirectly) important. Because the philosophers Jacques Derrida and Jürgen Habermas stylized the protests against the Iraq war in May 2003 as the founding myth of the European public. February 2003, when the demonstrating masses in London and Rome, Madrid and Barcelona, ​​Berlin and Paris reacted to this coup. The simultaneity of these overwhelming demonstrations - the largest since the end of the Second World War - could, in retrospect, go down in the history books as a signal for the birth of a European public Meaning of the dove of peace (Fig. 7) - while the then incumbent US President George W. Bush became the central enemy in connection with the stars and stripes of the United States, airplanes, bombs or the American eagle functioned as negatively connoted counter-images of the white dove. In the digital age, however, this image production was not dominated by an artistic genius like Picasso: Rather, a visual mass culture developed that was very much shaped by the fast pace of the Internet. The fact that the ancient symbol of the dove was still of importance in post-modern image productions seems all the more remarkable [6] [www.friedenstaube.at; www.inidia.de/friedenstaube.htm]. Many of the demonstrators, but also the Pope, for example, continued to rely on the image power of the white bird in the spring of 2003, when the initially expected and then actually carried out attack by an international coalition under the leadership of the USA on Iraq dominated the mass media in Europe and around the world (Fig . 9). Another important symbol of the anti-war demonstrations was the rainbow flag with the inscription “PACE” (Italian for “peace”) (Fig. 10).

Benjamin Drechsel


[1] For the cultural and historical development of the pigeon see Haag-Wackernagel, Daniel. 1998. The pigeon - from the sacred bird of the goddess of love to the street pigeon. Basel: Swabian.

[2] All biblical passages cited from the uniform translation of the Bible from 1980 (Stuttgart, Katholische Bibelanstalt / Herder).

[3] On Picasso's dove of peace as well as on the more general political dimension of his politics as a whole, see Zwecker, Loel. 2006. Picasso's purple period 1944–1953. Marburg: Jonas.

[4] See Schumacher, David. 2006. “'Dove of Peace‘ Really Lived. ”In Financial Times Germany v. October 13.

[5] Derrida, Jacques / Habermas, Jürgen. 2003. “After the war: The rebirth of Europe.” In Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung v. 31. May. Online publication in excerpts (last accessed on March 10, 2009)

[6] See the numerous examples in Mann, James, ed. 2004. Peace signs: the Anti-War movement illustrated. Zurich: Edition Olms.


Recommended citation: Drechsel, Benjamin, Die Friedenstaube. Image essay of the icon "The Dove of Peace", in: Online module European Political Image Memory. Icons and Iconographies of the 20th Century, 09/2009, URL: http://www.demokratiezentrum.org/themen/europa/europaeisches-bildgedaechtnis/die-friedenstaube.html

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