ArtLex Art Dictionary




fflag - A piece of cloth or other material, usually rectangular, of distinctive color and design, used as a standard, sign, or emblem. Flags are typically flown from a vertical or diagonal staff; the rope which hoists it called a halyard. The edge of a flag adjacent to the staff is called its hoist edge, while the opposite one is its fly edge. The shapes and figures and their arrangement in the design of a flag are generally described in the same terms used to describe heraldic designs.

A triangular flag is known as a pennant. A really long one is called a streamer.

A military flag might be called an ensign, a standard, or an ancient. A ship's flag is often called an ensign or a jack. A pirate's flag is a "Jolly Roger." Flags, especially those on a boat, or the light cloth used in making them is called bunting.

A flag that hangs from a horizontal bar may be called a banner or a gonfalon.

The study of flags is called vexillology.

Flags are often designed or redesigned when a country's name or borders are changed, or when its type of government radically changes.

Artists have designed flags. They have also made flags the subjects of other works. There are several examples both of actual flags and of paintings depicting flags below.

Like a nation's name, its flag is among its most potent symbols — patriotic and political. As one publicly honors or abuses a nation's flag, one symbolically honors or abuses that nation — its government, its people, its interests.

In 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that burning the American flag in public to protest government policies is a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. One contemporary artist placed the American flag on a floor, and another placed it in a toilet. Each has been guaranteed protection under the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech.


Flags of Nations of the World:

Other flags



Examples of art in which flags appear:


see thumbnail to leftJohn Singleton Copley (American and British, 1738-1815), The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781, 1783, oil on canvas, 251.5 x 365.8 cm, Tate Gallery, London.




see thumbnail to rightEmanuel Gottlieb Leutze (German-American, 1816-1869), Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, oil on canvas, 149 x 255 inches (378.5 x 647.7 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. This painting depicts General George Washington's attack on the Hessians at Trenton on December 25, 1776, during America's revolution against England. A print published in 1853 gave the painting the status of a national monument, in spite of numerous errors in historical detail (the flag, for example, as depicted here was not introduced until six months after the event). Nevertheless, the painting captured and has held the affection of succeeding generations of Americans, for the drama of the episode, despite the histrionics, has great patriotic appeal.




see thumbnail to leftHenry Peters Gray (American, 1819-1877), The Birth of Our Flag (aka Origin of the American Flag), 1874, oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches, National Academy of Design, NY.





see thumbnail to rightClaude Monet (French, 1840-1926), Garden at Sainte-Adresse, 1867, oil on canvas, 38 5/8 x 51 1/8 inches (98.1 x 129.9 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See Impressionism.



see thumbnail to leftAmerican, Jefferson County, New Jersey, Ripple Flag Fence Gate, 1877-1890, painted wood construction. See folk art.




see thumbnail to rightChilde Hassam (American, 1859-1935), The Fourth of July, 1916 (The Greatest Display of the American Flag Ever Seen in New York, Climax of the Preparedness Parade in May), 1916, oil on canvas, 36 x 26 1/8 inches (91.4 x 66.4 cm), Private collection. America entered World War I in April of 1917, but patriotic fervor was already running high in 1916. That year, Childe Hassam began to paint a series of flag paintings, based on the nationalistic displays of flags, banners, and bunting on the buildings that lined Manhattan streets. See American Impressionism and Ten American Painters.



see thumbnail to leftChilde Hassam, Allies Day, May 1917, 1917, oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 30 1/4 inches (92.7 x 76.8 cm), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Here the flags of four nations allied in the war mingled above Fifth avenue and 52nd Street.





see thumbnail to rightF. Childe Hassam, Avenue of the Allies: Brazil, Belgium, 1918, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 24 1/4 inches (92.1 x 61.6 cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art.



see thumbnail to leftChilde Hassam, Avenue of the Allies, Great Britain, 1918, 1918, oil on canvas, 36 x 28 3/8 inches (91.4 x 72.1 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. The flags of twenty-two allied nations along Fifth Avenue.




see thumbnail to rightChilde Hassam, Flags on Fifty-seventh Street, The Winter of 1918, 1918, oil on canvas, 35 3/4 x 23 3/4 inches (90.8 x 60.3 cm), New-York Historical Society, NY.




see thumbnail to leftChilde Hassam, Red Cross Drive, May 1918 (Celebration Day), 1918, oil on canvas, 35 1/2 x 23 1/2 inches (90.2 x 59.7 cm), collection of the May family.




see thumbnail to rightChilde Hassam, Victory Day, May 1919, 1919, oil on canvas, 36 x 21 3/4 inches (91.4 x 55.2 cm), American Academy of Arts and Letters, NY. There were at least twenty-three paintings in Hassam's seris of flag paintings.



Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976), Fifth Avenue, New York, 1915, platinum print, 12 1/4 x 8 1/4 inches (31.2 x 20.8 cm), Museum of Modern Art, NY. See photography.




see thumbnail to leftGerman, Long live Germany! (Es lebe Deutschland!) , after 1936, poster, collection of Dr. Robert D. Brooks. This poster casts Hitler as a sainted hero. A Holy Spirit-like / dove-like eagle flies in the radiant glow above an idealized Hitler, reminiscent of Baroque paintings of Christ in scenes with John the Baptist. See fascist aesthetic and propaganda.




see thumbnail to rightGerman, Our Flags are Victory! (Mit unfern Fahnen ist der Sieg!), 1940, poster. 650,000 copies were distributed by the Nazis during World War II.



see thumbnail to leftJoe Rosenthal (American, 1911-), Soldiers Hoist the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima, February 23, 1945, photograph. This iconic photograph actually shows the second flag-raising to celebrate the recapture of the island from the Japanese. Although Rosenthal did not stage this scene at all, as was rumored, he has had to answer the rumor ever since 1945. Mitchell Landsberg's story for AP about the photo includes, "The battle for Iwo Jima was the costliest battle in Marine Corps history. Its toll of 6,821 Americans dead, 5,931 of them Marines, accounted for nearly one-third of all Marine Corps losses in all of World War II. Rosenthal's picture has been called the greatest photograph of all time. It may well be the most widely reproduced. It served as the symbol for the Seventh War Loan Drive, for which it was plastered on 3.5 million posters. It was used on a postage stamp and on the cover of countless magazines and newspapers. It served as the model for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., a symbol forever of the valor and sacrifices of the U.S. Marines." See memorial.



Jasper Johns (American, 1930-), White Flag, 1955, encaustic, oil, newsprint and charcoal on canvas, 78 3/8 x 120 3/4 inches (198.9 x 306.7 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See Pop Art.




see thumbnail to leftFaith Ringgold (American, 1930-), The Flag is Bleeding #2, from the series "The American Collection," #6, 1997, acrylic on canvas; painted and pieced border, 76 x 79.5 inches. See African American art, Afrocentrism, and feminism and feminist art.




see thumbnail to rightRené Mederos (born Felix René Mederos Pazos) (Cuban, 1933-1996), designer, OSPAAAL, publisher, Vietnam, 1967, offset lithographic poster, 54.5 x 34 cm. The US flag is analogous to another emblem of the American nation Uncle Sam, and further to Uncle Sam's top hat — in this ruined condition representing the defeat of the US in the Vietnam War.



see thumbnail to leftWayne Eagleboy (American, Onandaga tribe, contemporary), We the People, 1971, acrylic paint and barbed wire on buffalo hide, Art Wagon Gallery. Contemporary Native American Wayne Eagleboy's version of the US flag bears portraits of two Indian men behind a screen of barbed wire. The painting is framed by the fur attached to its reverse.




see thumbnail to rightYolanda López (American, 1942-), Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe, 1978, oil pastel on paper, 32 x 24 inches, collection of the artist. See feminism and feminist art and mandorla.




see thumbnail to leftThomas E. Franklin (American, contemporary), Firefighters Raise a Flag at Ground Zero, 2001, photograph, The Record, Bergen County, NJ.





see thumbnail to rightU.S. Defense Department, U.S. Flag Draped Coffins Returning from Iraq, 2004, photograph. The US government has tried to limit the public's access to photographs of large numbers of such coffins. This and 360 other photographs of related subjects taken at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware can be seen at the Memory Hole.




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Also see heraldry, icon, logo, seal, symbol, and textile.




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