Symbolism of Bridges and Rainbows

Symbolism of Bridges and Rainbows

Why bridges and rainbows? What have they got to do with each other? Well, the archetypal bridge is an arc shape, like the rainbow. Symbolically, bridges and rainbows can be similar.

Here are a few bridges in art which illustrate the link.

みつけたぞぼくのにじ by Don Freeman 1977. (Obviously this is the Japanese edition.)
DER REGENBOGEN (1972) Marie Sarraz
Arthur Rackham Watercolor for Wagner's 'The Ring' 1912 rainbow
Arthur Rackham Watercolor for Wagner’s ‘The Ring’ 1912
‘The Bridge’ (1930) the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Dorrit Black
ILON WIKLAND (born February 5, 1930) 4
ILON WIKLAND (born February 5, 1930). This bridge appears to be suspended in the sky.

Of course, when we think of The Storybook Bridge, it’s the arch style bridge that comes to mind.

Toshi Yoshida, Half Moon Bridge, 1941
Toshi Yoshida, Half Moon Bridge, 1941
Jean-Jacques Sempé, How Do You Get Cold in 12 Images
Jean-Jacques Sempé, How Do You Get Cold in 12 Images
Akiko Miyakoshi
Akiko Miyakoshi

How’s this for an impressive bridge?

Alan Lee, illustration for ‘The Hobbit, or There and Back Again’ by J. R. R. Tolkien
Alan Lee, illustration for ‘The Hobbit, or There and Back Again’ by J. R. R. Tolkien
James Webb - Kew Bridge 1874
James Webb – Kew Bridge 1874
Frederick Richard Lee - Le Pont du Gard 1863
Frederick Richard Lee – Le Pont du Gard 1863

Here we have a ‘through arch’ bridge.

FEB 5 1916 THE LITERARY DIGEST magazine bridge
Henry George Gawthorn (1879-1941) 1928 poster of the Forth Rail Bridge for LNER
Henry George Gawthorn (1879-1941) 1928 poster of the Forth Rail Bridge for LNER

viaduct is a specific type of bridge that consists of a series of arches, piers, or columns supporting a long elevated railway or road. Typically a viaduct connects two points of roughly equal elevation allowing passage over a valley, road, river, or other low-lying feature or obstruction.

Paul Delvaux - The Viaduct [1963]
Paul Delvaux – The Viaduct [1963]
The Boieldieu Bridge in Rouen, sunset, 1896 Camille Pissarro French, 1830 – 1903

But the arch bridge is just one style of many. Here’s a log (a.k.a.) beam bridge.

The bridge from Aquaman
The bridge from the film Aquaman
John Wimbush – Waiting for a Bite 1901
MOONRISE KINGDOM, WES ANDERSON (2012) bridge
MOONRISE KINGDOM, WES ANDERSON (2012)

THE MOST LITERAL SYMBOLISM OF THE BRIDGE

In its broadest most literal sense, the bridge symbolises a transition from one state to another.

Following on from that, the bridge symbolises change, or the desire for change.

Here we have two lovers (or potential lovers) on a bridge. The bridge has two-fold symbolism: a ‘bridge between (people) rabbits’ as well as a change in state/status (relationship status).

by Susan Wheeler bridge cosy rabbits
by Susan Wheeler
The Daisy Race
The Daisy Race
Norman Rockwell (American,1894-1978) - Milkmaid, 1931 bridge
Norman Rockwell (American,1894-1978) – Milkmaid, 1931
Émile Friant - Idyll on a Bridge (Les Amoureux) 1888
Émile Friant – Idyll on a Bridge (Les Amoureux) 1888
Eulalie Banks from Child’s Garden Of Verses
Edmund Blair Leighton - The Gallant Suitor 1890
Edmund Blair Leighton – The Gallant Suitor 1890
‘A Winter's Tale, Snow Arrives in the Shire’ by the Hobbit artist Joe Gilronan
‘A Winter’s Tale, Snow Arrives in the Shire’ by the Hobbit artist Joe Gilronan

Here is another cosy bridge, often built like this one. A man and woman stand together atop of it. The bridge is an important means of bringing people together from one side of the village to the other.

Anton Franciscus Pieck (19 April 1895 – 24 November 1987) cosy bridge sled
Anton Franciscus Pieck (19 April 1895 – 24 November 1987)

In many cultures the bridge symbolises the link between what can be perceived and what is beyond perception.

A Dictionary of Symbols by J.R. Cirlot

Likewise, the rainbow can’t be reached or touched. It exists in the nether-space between here and our imaginary other-world.

THE PONTIFEX

Since the bridge serves as symbolic link between the perceived and the unperceived, this leads naturally into the mystic senses.

Pontifex, (Latin: “bridge builder”, ) plural Pontifices, member of a council of priests in ancient Rome. These priests were called ‘bridge builders’ because they are thought to bridge two separate worlds (between God and man).

For the Israelites, the bridge was the sign of the Covenant between the Creator and His people.

In China, the bridge denotes the union of heaven and earth.

“So nobody can quite explain exactly where the rainbows end.” An illustration of the poem “The Land of Let’s Pretend” written by Lady Sybil Grant and illustrated by Arthur Rackham, from the book “Princess Mary’s Gift Book”
1921 illustration by Arthur Rackham for Comus by Milton
DER REGENBOGEN (1972) Marie Sarraz
Easy Answers to Hard Questions pictures by Susan Perl text by Susanne Kirtland (1968) when do we see a rainbow

THE RAINBOW AND SEASON

In some cultures, rainbows are associated with certain times of year (rainy ones).

Eulalie Minfred Banks (1895-1999), for The Garden Year in The Bumper Book, 1946, edited by Watty Piper rainbow apricot
Eulalie Minfred Banks (1895-1999), for The Garden Year in The Bumper Book, 1946, edited by Watty Piper rainbow apricot

RAINBOW AS HOPE

Boris Kustodiev (1878-1927, Russian), After the Storm, 1921

Ronald Searle created a series of illustrations for his wife Monica when she underwent chemotherapy.

On New Year’s Eve 1969, Monica Searle was diagnosed with a rare and virulent form of breast cancer. Each time she underwent treatment, Ronald produced a Mrs Mole drawing ‘to cheer every dreaded chemotherapy session and evoke the blissful future ahead’. Filled with light and illuminated in glowing colours, the drawings speak of love, optimism and hope. Like the mediaeval illuminated manuscripts such as the 15th-century Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, to which the title of this book refers, the 47 drawings are on an intimate scale and were never intended for publication. The story of Monica’s survival against the odds and the part played by the encouragement of her husband will move many people who have either experienced cancer for themselves or been affected through a close family member of friend.

This is one of them.

from ‘Les Tres Riches Heures de Mrs Mole’ by Ronald Searle
Yuri Vasnetsov 'Rainbow-Arc' 1969
Yuri Vasnetsov ‘Rainbow-Arc’ 1969

The Catholic church uses a rainbow as a symbol of the pontificate, an excellent visual representation of how bridges and rainbows are often linked. This comes from Ancient Greece.

For the Greeks Iris was a messenger of the gods, also connected to rainbows. Again, Iris ‘bridges’ that divide between the real world and the spiritual realm.

Iris Carrying the Water of the River Styx to Olympus for the Gods to Swear By, Guy Head, c. 1793
Iris Carrying the Water of the River Styx to Olympus for the Gods to Swear By, Guy Head, c. 1793
The Weather Weaver by Tamsin Mori

HIGH BRIDGES, DANGER AND FEAR OF DEATH

The Bridge Troll by Leonie Paterson for a Ladybird book
The Bridge Troll by Leonie Paterson for The Three Billy Goats Gruff, a Ladybird book.
Witches, Ghosts, and Goblins A spooky search for Miranda’s cat by Ruthanna Long 1974

Late in the night, fourteen-year-old Sam Watson steps onto a quiet overpass, climbs over the rail and looks down at the road far below.

At the other end of the same bridge, an old man, Vic, smokes his last cigarette.

The two see each other across the void. A fateful connection is made, and an unlikely friendship blooms. Slowly, we learn what led Sam and Vic to the bridge that night. Bonded by their suffering, each privately commits to the impossible task of saving the other.

Honeybee is a heart-breaking, life-affirming novel that throws us headlong into a world of petty thefts, extortion plots, botched bank robberies, daring dog rescues and one spectacular drag show.

Bernard Jacob Rosenmeyer – Edgar Allan Poe Walking Along A High Bridge, 1930

If you’ve ever used a rope bridge you’ll understand how the experience is basically spatial horror.

Forget the storm, bridges can function as monsters in their own right.

Bridge in London, 1908 by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, (Russian-Lithuanian, 1875 – 1957).

And the arch-shaped bridge isn’t always cosy.

Little Devil's Bridge circa 1806-7 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
Little Devil’s Bridge circa 1806-7 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Would you be perfectly at ease scampering across this bridge?

Zenobiusz Poduszko (Polish, 1887 - 1963)
Zenobiusz Poduszko (Polish, 1887 – 1963)

This stranger doesn’t look like he’s about to offer assistance.

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood Written and Illustrated by Howard Pyle, Grosset & Dunlap Publ. (1946) Robyn Hood Meeteth The Tall Stranger On The Bridge
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood Written and Illustrated by Howard Pyle, Grosset & Dunlap Publ. (1946) Robyn Hood Meeteth The Tall Stranger On The Bridge
Gustaf Tenggren’s (concept) art for Disney Dwarves on Bridge
Anton Romako (Austrian, 1832 – 1889) Girl crossing a mountain torrent, 1880-1882
Scouts building a bridge

THE BRIDGE AND MYTHIC JOURNEYS

Even cosy journeys often contain the near-death experience of a bridge. When characters in children’s book look out of a window you know they’re thinking about leaving. If they’re sitting on or swinging on the garden fence? Same. When they cross the bridge, they are moving from symbolic civilisation into the symbolic forest, where they are entirely on their own.

Brian Paterson (1949) Foxwood Tales bridge
Brian Paterson (1949) Foxwood Tales bridge

BRIDGES AND SAFETY

There may also be a bridge on the other side of danger, transporting characters back to safety.

Halloween In The Forest by Willy Peterson
Halloween In The Forest by Willy Peterson
Ivan Gantschev
DEVINEZ L'ALPHABET (1868--colored version, 1978) Théophile Schuler crossing bridge
DEVINEZ L’ALPHABET (1868–colored version, 1978) Théophile Schuler

In the Anglosphere, journeys take place from left to right. But the images below show characters walking in the opposite direction, defying the natural movement of the eyes. Something has happened to turn them ‘back’.

Gaston and Josephine crossing bridge
Gaston and Josephine crossing bridge
Winter scene by Anton Pieck, Dutch (1895-1986) bridge
Winter scene by Anton Pieck, Dutch (1895-1986).
Alfred Sisley (1839 - 1899) The Bridge of Moret, 1890
Alfred Sisley (1839 – 1899) The Bridge of Moret, 1890

The bridge in this picture is barely warranted, but is more symbolic, transporting a child safely across a trickle of water.

Cover art of a German puzzle box

RELATED

'The Bridge of Sighs' Illustration by G. Fernand, circa 1900 (the words in French on the postcard point out that the illustrator made a mistake as women always wear black shawls in Venice)
‘The Bridge of Sighs’ Illustration by G. Fernand, circa 1900 (the words in French on the postcard point out that the illustrator made a mistake as women always wear black shawls in Venice)

Rainbows In Art, a collection of rainbow paintings from The Public Domain Review

Ul De Rico, author and illustrator of 'The Rainbow Goblins', 1978
Ul De Rico, author and illustrator of ‘The Rainbow Goblins’, 1978

Talk for Writing Home-school Booklet: Rainbows, rainbows everywhere! by Emma Caulfield

William Brooker’s painting from 1953 depicts the Albert Bridge at night

FURTHER READING

Lemon girl young adult novella

READ AT MY OTHER BLOG

Header painting: Edmund George Warren – Crossing the Brook 1874

Those who tell the stories rule the world.

Native American Proverb