| Symbology versus Symbolism: Exploring Iconography
Reference: Iconography the 14 page document by JEW KWHSDB
1.a. Pictorial illustration of a subject. b. The collected representations illustrating a subject.
2.A set of specified or traditional symbolic forms associated with the subject or theme of a stylized work of art.
3.A treatise or book dealing with iconography.
[Late Latin iconographia, description, verbal sketch, from Greek eikonographia : eikono-, icono- + -graphia, -graphy.]
— i´co•nog ra•pher noun
— i•con´o•graph ic (i-kon´-graf ik) or i•con´o•graph i•cal adjective
Iconography, in art history, the study of subject matter in art. The meaning of works of art is often conveyed by the specific objects or figures that the artist chooses to portray; the purpose of
iconography is to identify, classify, and explain these objects. Iconography is particularly important in the study of religious and allegorical painting, where many of the objects that are pictured—
crosses, skulls, books, or candles, for example—have special significance, which is often obscure or symbolic.
The use of iconographic symbols in art began as early as 3000 bc, when the Neolithic civilizations of the Middle East used nonhuman or animal figures to represent their gods. Thus, the
Egyptian mother goddess Hathor was associated with the cow and usually appeared in relief sculpture and wall paintings as a cow-headed woman. The sun god Ra had a hawk's head, and the
creator Ptah appeared as a bull.
In ancient Greece and Rome, each of the gods was associated with specific objects. Zeus (Jupiter), the father of the gods, was often accompanied by an eagle or a thunderbolt; Apollo, the god
of art, by a lyre; Artemis (Diana), the hunter, by a bow and quiver. In addition, the Romans perfected the use of secular allegorical symbols. For example, a woman surrounded by bunches of
grapes and sheaves of wheat would be readily understood as a representation of the bounties of the earth.
Early Christian art during the period of Roman persecution was highly circumspect, and innocuous objects—the fish and the dove—were used to symbolize Christ and the Holy Spirit. Later
Christian art, however, became replete with iconographic symbols. In particular, many of the saints became associated with specific objects—Saint Peter with two keys, for instance, or Saint
Catherine with a broken wheel.
During the Renaissance and through the 18th century, allegorical paintings were especially popular, as artists constructed elaborate symbolic schemes to illustrate such themes as the vanity of
human existence. Objects such as jewels, coins, and musical instruments personified the vain pleasures of life, while skulls, hourglasses, and extinguished candles were memento mori, or
reminders of death.
In the modern period, much art has become so highly individualistic that the use of widely understood iconographic objects has disappeared. Some exceptions are Cubism, Dada, and pop art,
the images of which are everyday objects—newspapers, soup cans, photographs, comic-book figures—that have become genuine iconographic symbols reflecting modern culture.
Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means "image writing", or
painting, and comes from the Greek εικον (image) and γραφειν (to write). A secondary meaning is the painting of icons in the Byzantine and Orthodox Christian tradition. A third meaning lies
in the field of semiotics, see below. Sometimes a distinction is made between Iconology, the branch of art history that deals with the description, analysis, and interpretation of icons or iconic
representations, and Iconography, a set of specified or traditional symbolic forms associated with the subject or theme of a stylized work of art.
A painting with complex iconography:C- in fact this is a later title for a Life of the Virgin cycle on a single panel. Altogether 25 scenes, not all involving the Virgin, are depicted. 1480, Alte
|Hans Memling (Memlinc) (c. 1430 – 11 August 1494) was an Early Netherlandish
painter, born in Germany, who was the last major fifteenth century artist in the
Low Countries, the successor to Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, whose
tradition he continued with little innovation
The Alte Pinakothek (Old Pinakothek) is an art museum situated in the Kunstareal
in Munich, Germany. It is one of the oldest galleries of the world housing one of
the most famous art museums for the old masters. The name (old Pinakothek)
aludes to the time period covered by the art — the Neue Pinakothek covers 19th
century art and the recently opened Pinakothek der Moderne exhibits modern art,
all galleries are part of Munich's "Kunstareal" (the "art area").
|Icons in Hinduism ...The Hindu god Shiva. Note the blue skin and damaru drum
held in his back hand
Images of Hindu gods and goddesses use a rich symbolism. Some figures are
blue-skinned (the color of heaven) or have multiple arms holding various
symbols which depict aspects of the god.
|Hans Memling's Seven Joys of the Virgin
Until the 13th century, icons followed a broadly similar pattern in West and East, although very few such
early examples survive from either tradition. Western icons, which are not usually so termed, were largely
patterned on Byzantine works, and equally conventional in composition and depiction. From this point on
the Western tradition came slowly to allow the artist far more flexibility, and a more realistic approach to
In the 15th century the use of icons in the West was enormously increased by the introduction of prints on
paper, mostly woodcuts which were produced in vast numbers. With the Reformation, after an initial
uncertainty among early Lutherans, Protestants came down firmly against icon-like portraits, especially
larger ones, even of Christ. Many Protestants found these idolatrous. Catholics maintained and even
intensified the traditional use of icons, both printed and on paper, using the different styles of the
Renaissance and Baroque. Popular Catholic imagery to a certain extent has remained attached to a
Baroque style of about 1650, especially in Italy and Spain.
 Islamic view of icons
See also: Islamic art
Muslims view sanctified icons as idols, and strictly forbid their worship, nor do they pray in front of one.
However, the various divisions of Islam take different positions on the role of visual depictions of living (or
once-living) creatures, including people. At one end of the spectrum, sects such as the Wahhabis totally
ban drawings and photography. Some branches of Islam forbid only the former but allow the latter. The
majority of Sunni Muslims permit both. Some Shia allow even the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad
and the twelve Imams, a position totally unacceptable to most Sunnis.
|Iconography in academic research
In other academic disciplines such as Semiotics, Anthropology, Sociology, Media Studies and Cultural Studies, iconography refers the study of images or signs, such as those images that have
an important significance to a particular culture or time. Discussing imagery as iconography in this way implies a critical "reading" of imagery that often attempts to explore social and cultural
values. Iconography is also used within film studies to describe the visual language of cinema, particularly within the field of genre criticism.
Iconography in Indian religions
The iconography and hagiography of Indian religions includes aureola, halo and divine qualities and attributes represented by mudra, asana and ritual tools such as the dharmachakra, vajra,
dadar, phurba, sauwastika, symbolic use of color to denote the Classical Elements or Mahabhuta and letters and bija syllables from sacred alphabetic scripts.
Also known as processual symbolic analysis, the symbology concept was developed by Victor Turner in the mid-1970s to refer to the use of symbols within cultural contexts, in particular ritual.
In anthropology, symbology originated as part of Victor Turner's concept of "comparative symbology". Turner (1920-1983) was professor of Anthropology at Cornell University, the
University of Chicago, and finally he was Professor of Anthropology and Religion at the University of Virginia. In 1940, Robert A. Heinlein used "symbology" in Blowups Happen, a
mathematics-based short story. He uses the word as a way to establish conceptual connections between behavioral psychology and mathematics.
Symbology versus symbolism
Symbolism is the use of a symbol to send a message. For example, the simple symbolism of a cross is to represent Christianity. Symbology is the symbolism and how it is used in ritual (aka
"ritual performance"). For example, on Good Friday of each year a man dressed in a white robe will bear a large wooden cross on his shoulders, dragging it along cobble streets in Jerusalem.
People in the crowd watching will offer to take the cross to relieve the man of his burden. Within the ritual context or drama, the symbol of the cross is grouped with other symbols, such as the
white robe and the location.
Symbology in fiction and popular culture
"Religious symbology" is the academic discipline pursued by the hero of Dan Brown's novels, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Specifically, the Da Vinci Code refers to Robert
Langdon (the lead character in the novel) as "Professor of Religious Symbology, Harvard University" (Brown 2003:7). Langdon's academic work in the novels involves anthropological
perspective of symbols and religion. The character discusses religious symbols in a cross-cultural sense. He de-contextualizes symbols, discusses how they are used within ritual, and presents a
diachronic (over-time) interpretation of changes in symbology: when and how the symbols are used within various cultural contexts change over time.Although "symbology" may be an accurate
description of Langdon's particular field of research, in reality he could not hold the title "Professor of Religious Symbology". "Symbology" is not a formal discipline, and does not exist as a
department at Harvard or any other university. It is an approach or model of study within the anthropology of religion or symbolic anthropology.In the PlayStation 2 RPG Star Ocean: Till
The End Of Time, symbology is a scientific research/technology, used in place of magic, and is a kind of cheat code the residents of the game world use in order to get certain powers. This
power is accessed by putting symbols on one's arm in the game. It also opens up the path to a shocking plot twist later in the game.In the film Boondock Saints, it appears in dialogue as a
misusage or malapropism. The FBI agent Paul Smecker, played by Willem Dafoe, chastises a police detective he is working with for using the word symbology. The implication is that he is
irked by the officer's statement because he sees symbology as a malapropism for the word symbolism. The dialogue is as follows::Police detective: "So, what's the symbology there?":Smecker:
"Symbology?...Now that Duffy has relinquished his king bonehead crown, I see we have an heir to the throne. I'm sure the word you were looking for was symbolism. What is the
sssssymbolism there?" Make no mistake about it all societies transmit their dominant culture by way of religion; through signs, symbols: i.e.Symbology Symbolism: Iconography...
For more than 100,000 years (as new data suggest) African signs and symbols decorate the entire planet.
|Thai Symbolism Southeast Asia
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