The Allegorical City

Throughout the history of art, one of the more common themes has been the representation of a thing or concept in the form of something else in order to explain its meaning in a different sense.  These can generally fall under the heading of allegory, but more specifically can be a personification.  Allegories can be applied to a far greater range of artistic forms than the visual arts (for instance Plato’s Cave is an allegory), but it is perhaps in the visual arts where they are the most well-known.   The concept of allegories and personification in art became much more popular in the 18 century and into the 19 century.  This was due to two developments, first the neo-classical artistic movement which put focus on the importance of love (for instance Psyche Revived by Cupid’s kiss could be considered as allegory).  Secondly the rise of nationalism in its modern form gave more meaning to symbolism when it came to represent countries and nations.  Notable examples of these would be the Statue of Liberty representing the United States and Marianne representing the French Republic.  

 Another development during this time period was that of the movement of people from the countryside to the cities.  In so doing certain cities became more than places for work, but also cosmopolitan areas which defined world culture like never before.  In so doing people began to recognize that the city has its own personality and its own rhythm and in so doing often personified the city as well. 


So to tie this actually into comics, part of the plan with the new 52 is to roll a lot of the characters from other universes into the mainstream of DC comics.  One such character is Jack Hawksmoor who has the ability to communicate with cities.  While this is represented in different facets, at one point in issue #3 he actually communes directly with the personifications of Metropolis, Gotham and Paris.  Of course Metropolis and Gotham are not actual cities, but their depiction is often given to figuratively represent New York City (that is to say in a sense that they are allegories of New York City.)   Gotham has been said to be New York City at night and Metropolis to be New York City during the day.  Aside from Paris (which was drawn in the way that one might expect Paris to be depicted) it was still interesting to see the personification of an allegory.  Modern art sometimes lacks a direct link to its artistic past in the degree of its abstractness, but then the scope of what constitutes art has also changed in modern day such that art forms such as graffiti or comic book art can be considered to be representative of the time.  I don’t want to make it seem like something more than what it was, but I did find the panels with these figures to be quite a nice addition to the comic and some of the more interesting comic book art I have seen in a while. 

3 Comments Refresh
Posted by Delphic

Bad morning for vocabulary, couldn't remember the meaning of the word allegory :P I like to thank google for allowing me to be able to comment on this.

I haven't been reading Stormwatch, but I've seen the mentioned panel several times. What I find most interesting is that the allegorical personifications of cities just so happen to be represented by a woman or mythical creature. Metropolis is reminiscent of a the casual working female and Paris is represented by a classy woman. Gotham is represented by a demon, but the text leads us to belief that Gotham was also represented by a woman once. So that leads me to question what sort of city would be represented by a man?

Posted by RazzaTazz
@Delphic: Allegories in art are quite often female characters
Posted by Delphic

@RazzaTazz: If I had to pick one city and it's not really a city, but a ward to be represented by a male personification it would be the Shinjuku district in Tokyo, Japan. Shinjuku is a major adminstravite and commercial district and when I see that I think of a business man. If it came down to it though and I had to represent the entire city of Tokyo as a whole I would say it would be represented by a Geisha. Then again Kyoto screams Geisha more than Tokyo does.