The Symbolism of Bats in Art: Understanding their Significance Across Cultures
From ancient cave paintings to modern-day art, animals have inspired artists for thousands of years. Animal symbolism is a powerful tool that creatives can use to add depth and meaning to their work. This blog post will examine how bats have influenced artists around the world. Bats are fascinating creatures, with over 1,400 incredibly diverse species known, ranging from tiny bumblebee bats to flying foxes with wingspans of up to six feet. In art, bats also have a vast range of symbolic meanings. Discover how and why cultures worldwide have celebrated this fascinating creature.
Image from Art Forms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel: 100 Downloadable High-Resolution Prints for Artists, Designers and Nature Lovers
How Do Different Cultures Perceive the Bat?
The bat played a significant role in the Maya civilisation. Their writing system frequently used the bat hieroglyph, and many different types of artwork, including pottery, stone carvings, clay figures, and stucco reliefs, depicted bats. Certain groups within Maya society worshipped a bat deity. One such group is the Tzotzil people, whose name translates to 'bat people' or 'people of the bat'. San Lorenzo Zinacantán, a town located in the Mexican state of Chiapas, has a population that is 99.1% Tzotzil Maya. The town's name, Zinacantán, comes from the Nahuatl language and means 'land of bats'. In their language, Tzotzil, the people of Zinacantán refer to their land as 'Sots'leb', which also means 'land of bats'. Read more here; J. Eric S. Thompson. "Maya Hieroglyphs of the Bat as Metaphorgrams." Man 1, no. 2 (1966): 176–84.
Bat Sculpture, From Isabal or Alta Verapaz. Taken by Guillermo Mata, July 1966 via Maya Archaeology
In Chinese society, the bat is a significant symbol of good fortune and happiness. The roots of this association began in the Han Period between 206 BCE to 220 CE, and bats have been frequently referenced in literature, art, and mythology since. The Chinese word for bat sounds very similar to the word for good fortune, and this linguistic connection only cements the bat's reputation as a symbol of luck and prosperity.
A pictorial representation of this concept is an image of bats representing the five blessings, an idea that encapsulates the five blessings of life, which include health, a long life, prosperity, love of virtue, and a peaceful, natural death. The colour red, which conveys joy, is often used to depict these bats, and they are sometimes shown in a circle around a stylised character known as the prosperity symbol, like this example below via Ferrebeekeeper blog.
In many European cultures, bats are seen as symbols of darkness and evil due to their nocturnal habits. In the painting 'The Temptation of St. Anthony' by David Teniers the Younger, the central figure of the image is being tempted by various demonic figures, including a bat. Anthony the Great was a devout Christian hermit living in the Egyptian desert during the 3rd century. His sole focus was on prayer and devotion to his faith. While living in solitude, Anthony was confronted with an onslaught of temptations from the devil in the form of terrifying beasts. In Teniers' painting, the bat contributes to the sense of danger and malevolence surrounding St Anthony and attempting to lure him towards sin.
Interested in Learning More?
There are many different ways that artists and designers can integrate animal symbolism into their art. The possibilities are endless, whether through traditional animal motifs or more subtle references to animal behaviour and characteristics. If you're an artist looking for new ways to add depth and meaning to your work, animal symbolism is a powerful tool to help you create visually stunning and impactful artwork.
Vault Editions image archives are books that contain collections of hundreds of inspiring images categorised by theme. All of our books include a download link that gives you access to high-resolution files of the images featured within. Image archives are an invaluable resource for artists and designers to gather inspiration and ideas to create their own unique and innovative designs.
Here's a selection of our inspirational titles: