Noah’s Ark’s Influence on Western Art

Updated on November 15, 2019
Rhylee Suyom profile image

Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

Noah's Ark


Noah’s Ark's Influence on Western Literature

Noah’s Ark is one of the most popular stories in the Bible. Its readership transcends adults because it is also read by and for kids. Aside from being a major story in the holy text among believers of the Bible, it is also an interesting story even by just focusing on it as a mere literary text. With the story’s popularity and the Bible itself, it is believed that it has influenced Western Literature, Art and Film to the point no wonder that there would always be concepts of the Great Flood in almost every contemporary piece of art.

The Impact of Noah’s Ark

The story behind Noah’s Ark is the creation of the giant ark made to save people and animals during the Great Flood. This story can be found in the book of Genesis where the flood is the punishment of God to all sinners at that time. God told Noah to build an ark that would save him and his family as well as the creatures to be included in the ark. The people noticed Noah as he was creating this ark, yet the perverse generation then saw that it was for no good reason, and they did not believe about this flood, but instead mocked him. Noah, following the instructions of God, brought with him two of all kinds of living creatures during the flood. All of the sinners were washed away and only his family and the creatures they brought with him managed to survive the rain. The major elements in the story are the Great Floods, the ark, the new life and Noah himself. Biblically speaking, this is highly important most especially in the Old Testament since it marked the promise of God that He will never destroy the earth again that way, but more than that, it also offers a rich text to us. Given that, its elements, most specifically the Great Flood, have influenced Western Literature in various ways.

Rhetorical Devices in the Story

In this story, symbolism is embedded which can give a rich interpretation. Symbols are images that are used in literary texts which are meant to depict a major meaning in the text. A symbol is a word or phrase that signifies an object or event which suggests a range of references beyond itself (Tyson, 2006). It is also possible that these influenced Western literature. One of the major images in the story is the flood. It was mentioned that “the waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days” (Gen. 7:24 New International Version). This flood is a symbol of new life, change, and cleansing from sin. Water, in its simplest sense, is related to life and refreshment. In this case, it can be considered that flood can serve as a symbol for new life and change since it will wash away all the sins of the world. Same goes for the dirt on any part of the human body. If someone wants the stain cleaned, he could wash it with water. It is the universal solvent meant to cleanse everything. If a person wants to clean a dirty object, the quickest thing to do this is to clean the dirt off with water. In this story, the water meant to clean all of the dirt/sins of the people. It showed that the level of sinfulness of the people was beyond control. According to Genesis, ‘now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence’ (Gen. 6:11 New International Version). Only water was seen as a form of cleaning. In alignment to this, this sense of cleanliness is also associated with water in terms of Baptism in the other stories in the Bible.

Given this, several stories in the Western Literature associate water as a cleansing agent just like in The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri where the sinners are submerged in the water as for them to be at least, partially cleansed. This concept is parallel to the idea of the cleansing of the sinners during Noah’s time. It signifies change and conversion just how it symbolizes water in Baptism. In the Catholic faith, baptism is a new life where water is poured on the head of the person being baptized and is announced to be free from his original sins which he got from Adam and Eve.

There were also allusions to the Great Flood in Beowulf where it is believed that the God who brought the Great Flood of the past was the same God in the account of Noah’s Ark. It can also be related to how Scyld was depicted in the story. When he was still an infant, he was found in the ship with weapons of war coming in the middle of the sea. This concept of new life related to a ship in the middle of a body of water can be connected to the Great Flood and new life as shown in the story of Noah’s Ark.

Aside from that, the ark is also a symbol for an agent for/of change and protection. It goes with the flow of water. It housed the animals and protected them for the entire duration of the days of the flood. Without it, there would not be any creature and individual who would survive in the Great Flood. It is stated that “Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark- you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. “You are to bring two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you” (Gen. 6:17-20 New International Version). Its representation of a house is clearly depicted since it is meant to save all of the creatures and be kept in that ark. With the combination of the agent for change and movement, it is also meant to hold the important creatures that are meant to be protected in the Flood.

The Impact in Popular Media

This impact is also evident even in contemporary forms of art like paintings and films. Modern rewriting and versions of the Great Flood can be seen in various movies like Water World and even The Day After Tomorrow. These films have concepts of the cleansing of the world where a lot of people have to die because of too much abuse in the natural resources that only a few should survive.

In Water World, the entire movie was depicted through the submergence of the entire earth in water. In this case, people had to rely on their motorboats and ships for survival. They spent their entire lives finding the dry land. This is quite parallel to the story of Noah where they had to wait for a long period of time to find a dry piece of land. Similar to the film, both ended up living on the dry land just as how humans should be.

As for The Day After Tomorrow, this is an environmentally inclined movie where a great flood also comes as a form of cleansing of the people who abused the environment which was followed by a very low temperature. It washed away a lot of people as well. Similar to the aforementioned stories, the people had to wait for a time before getting back to the normal state of living.

Aside from these, paintings were also influenced by the idea of the Great Flood. Schönfeld's The Flood and Dore’s The Great Deluge are illustrations of artist’s interpretation of the Great Flood. In both artworks, there would always be the depiction of struggle among people as they fight for their lives in the flood. The major element that should be focused on in these paintings is the water. In The Flood, the water is seen to a cleansing agent as it goes along with other elements of the painting like the people and the animals which clearly illustrates the artists’ interpretation of The Flood. Same goes with Dore’s The Great Deluge. Although there are less of the creatures in this painting, the illustration of struggle can portray the graveness of the situation as compared to the situation of Noah and his family as they witnessed other people be washed away. These paintings were able to capture the scenery that could have possibly be seen if The Great Flood transpires before our very eyes.


In conclusion, Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood are seen to be elements that have been used even in Western literature not only in texts but also in art forms. Setting aside the religious inclination and concentrating on the Bible story as a literary masterpiece, it can be argued that because of popularity, its concepts are used in films, art forms, and most importantly, that of literary texts.


SparkNotes Editors. (2004). SparkNote on The Divine Comedy. Retrieved October 1, 2014, from

Classy Lit. (2012). Modern Allusions to Noah and the Ark. Retrieved October 8, 2014 from

© 2019 Professor S


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    • Rhylee Suyom profile imageAUTHOR

      Professor S 

      12 months ago from Angeles City, Pampanga, PHILIPPINES

      Thank you for your interest and comment Lorna. I hope to write and post more blogs/articles.

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      12 months ago

      This is a very interesting and thought provoking article which I enjoyed. Thank you for sharing.


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