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Iconography (also iconography ; from the Greek εἰκών eikón 'picture' and γράφειν gráphein 'write') is a scientific method of art history that deals with the determination and interpretation of motifs in works of fine art . The research and interpretation of the content and symbolism of the pictorial objects, taking into account contemporary literary sources such as philosophy , poetry and theology , which had an influence on the respective motifs and their representation, is also known as iconology .

The art historians Aby Warburg (1866–1929) and Erwin Panofsky (1892–1968) presented the first systematic teaching of this method .


The term originally referred to classical portraits of antiquity . The iconography Caesars example is the collection of all the portraits that Caesar represent.

Since the end of the 19th century, iconography has meant the interpretation of content in the visual arts. She initially devoted herself primarily to deciphering representations of Christian art and mythological motifs. An important source for researching the pictorial symbolism of the sculptures in cathedrals , the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages and church paintings of all kinds is the Physiologus and especially the Legenda aurea , from which most of the saints' attributes and life scenes are derived. Medieval sermons are also sources of great importance.

The deliberately complicated and enigmatic allegories and emblems of the Renaissance and the Baroque represented a particular challenge for art history . For example, Renaissance artists became interested in non-Christian sources such as the Egyptian hieroglyphs , described by Horapollon in a script discovered in 1419. In 1499 the allegorical novel Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by Francesco Colonna was published , which, like Andrea Alciato's Emblematum liber of 1531 and the Iconologia of Cesare Ripa of 1593, served artists to puzzle - and later art historians to decipher - pictures. As a result, currents such as alchemy and freemasonry also intervene in artistic iconography.


In a figurative and generalized sense, this term is used today to understand connections between pictorial symbolism and artwork.

As a science of image content, iconography is also used to identify the people represented.

See also

Portal: Fabrics and Motifs  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of fabrics and motifs


  • Horst Appuhn: Introduction to the Iconography of Medieval Art in Germany. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1979.
  • Carl Robert: Archaeological Hermeneutics. Instructions for the interpretation of classic sculptures . Weidmann, Berlin 1919 [no ISBN].
  • Frank Büttner, Andrea Gottdang: Introduction to Iconography. Ways to interpret image content . CH Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-53579-8 , ISBN 978-3-406-53579-6 .
  • Erwin Panofsky : Sense and Interpretation in Fine Art . Dumont, Cologne 1975.
  • Heinrich Krauss, Eva Uthemann: What pictures tell. The classical stories from antiquity and Christianity in occidental painting . 3rd edition, Munich 1993.
  • Hans Ottomeyer (Ed.): The exhibit as historical evidence: forms of presentation of political iconography . Sandstein Verlag, Dresden 2011, ISBN 978-3-942422-30-7 .
  • Sabine Poeschel (Ed.): Iconography. New ways of research . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2010, ISBN 978-3-534-21666-6
  • Brigitte Riese: Seemanns Lexicon of Iconography. Religious and profane image motifs . EA Seemann Verlag, Leipzig 2007, ISBN 978-3-86502-102-1 .

Web links

Commons : Iconography  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. See the methodological suggestions from Elmar Worgull in the article Ikonographie des Schubert-Lexikon / ed. by Ernst Hilmar and Magret Jestremski. Academic printing and Verlagsanstalt, Graz 1997 and 1998, pp. 206–209, as well as:
    Elmar Worgull : Franz Schubert in photo documents of his friends and contemporaries. Art-historical considerations on Schubert's iconography . Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft, Worms 2018, ISBN 978-3-88462-388-6 .