Iconography, as a branch of art history, studies the identification, description and interpretation of the content of images: the subjects depicted, the particular compositions and details used to do so, and other elements that are distinct from artistic style. The word iconography comes from the Greek εἰκών ("image") and γράφειν ("to write" or to draw).
A secondary meaning (based on a non-standard translation of the Greek and Russian equivalent terms) is the production or study of the religious images, called "icons", in the Byzantine and Orthodox Christian tradition (see Icon). This usage is mostly found in works translated from languages such as Greek or Russian, with the correct term being "icon painting".
In art history, "an iconography" may also mean a particular depiction of a subject in terms of the content of the image, such as the number of figures used, their placing and gestures. The term is also used in many academic fields other than art history, for example semiotics and media studies, and in general usage, for the content of images, the typical depiction in images of a subject, and related senses. Sometimes distinctions have been made between iconology and iconography,   although the definitions, and so the distinction made, varies. When referring to movies, genres are immediately recognizable through their iconography, motifs that become associated with a specific genre through repetition. 
Early Western writers who took special note of the content of images include Giorgio Vasari, whose Ragionamenti, interpreting the paintings in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, reassuringly demonstrates that such works were difficult to understand even for well-informed contemporaries. Lesser known, though it had informed poets, painters and sculptors for over two centuries after its 1593 publication, was Cesare Ripa's emblem book Iconologia.  Gian Pietro Bellori, a 17th-century biographer of artists of his own time, describes and analyses, not always correctly, many works. Lessing's study (1796) of the classical figure Amor with an inverted torch was an early attempt to use a study of a type of image to explain the culture it originated in, rather than the other way round. 
Iconography as an academic art historical discipline developed in the nineteenth-century in the works of scholars such as Adolphe Napoleon Didron (1806–1867), Anton Heinrich Springer (1825–1891), and Émile Mâle (1862–1954)  all specialists in Christian religious art, which was the main focus of study in this period, in which French scholars were especially prominent.  They looked back to earlier attempts to classify and organise subjects encyclopedically like Cesare Ripa and Anne Claude Philippe de Caylus's Recueil d'antiquités égyptiennes, étrusques, grècques, romaines et gauloises as guides to understanding works of art, both religious and profane, in a more scientific manner than the popular aesthetic approach of the time.  These early contributions paved the way for encyclopedias, manuals, and other publications useful in identifying the content of art. Mâle's l'Art religieux du XIIIe siècle en France (originally 1899, with revised editions) translated into English as The Gothic Image, Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century has remained continuously in print.
In the early-twentieth century Germany, Aby Warburg (1866–1929) and his followers Fritz Saxl (1890–1948) and Erwin Panofsky (1892–1968) elaborated the practice of identification and classification of motifs in images to using iconography as a means to understanding meaning.  Panofsky codified an influential approach to iconography in his 1939 Studies in Iconology, where he defined it as "the branch of the history of art which concerns itself with the subject matter or meaning of works of art, as opposed to form,"  although the distinction he and other scholars drew between particular definitions of "iconography" (put simply, the identification of visual content) and "iconology" (the analysis of the meaning of that content), has not been generally accepted, though it is still used by some writers. 
In the United States, to which Panofsky immigrated in 1931, students such as Frederick Hartt, and Meyer Schapiro continued under his influence in the discipline.  In an influential article of 1942, Introduction to an "Iconography of Mediaeval Architecture",  Richard Krautheimer, a specialist on early medieval churches and another German émigré, extended iconographical analysis to architectural forms.
The period from 1940 can be seen as one where iconography was especially prominent in art history.  Whereas most iconographical scholarship remains highly dense and specialized, some analyses began to attract a much wider audience, for example Panofsky's theory (now generally out of favour with specialists) that the writing on the rear wall in the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck turned the painting into the record of a marriage contract. Holbein's The Ambassadors has been the subject of books for a general market with new theories as to its iconography,  and the best-sellers of Dan Brown include theories, disowned by most art historians, on the iconography of works by Leonardo da Vinci.
Technological advances allowed the building-up of huge collections of photographs, with an iconographic arrangement or index, which include those of the Warburg Institute and the Index of Medieval Art  (formerly Index of Christian Art) at Princeton (which has made a specialism of iconography since its early days in America).  These are now being digitised and made available online, usually on a restricted basis.
With the arrival of computing, the Iconclass system, a highly complex way of classifying the content of images, with 28,000 classification types, and 14,000 keywords, was developed in the Netherlands as a standard classification for recording collections, with the idea of assembling huge databases that will allow the retrieval of images featuring particular details, subjects or other common factors. For example, the Iconclass code "71H7131" is for the subject of "Bathsheba (alone) with David's letter", whereas "71" is the whole "Old Testament" and "71H" the "story of David". A number of collections of different types have been classified using Iconclass, notably many types of old master print, the collections of the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin and the German Marburger Index. These are available, usually on-line or on DVD.   The system can also be used outside pure art history, for example on sites like Flickr. 
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Religious images are used to some extent by all major religions, including both Indian and Abrahamic faiths, and often contain highly complex iconography, which reflects centuries of accumulated tradition. Secular Western iconography later drew upon these themes.
Central to the iconography and hagiography of Indian religions are mudra or gestures with specific meanings. Other features include the aureola and halo, also found in Christian and Islamic art, and divine qualities and attributes represented by asana and ritual tools such as the dharmachakra, vajra, chhatra, sauwastika, phurba and danda. The symbolic use of colour to denote the Classical Elements or Mahabhuta and letters and bija syllables from sacred alphabetic scripts are other features. Under the influence of tantra art developed esoteric meanings, accessible only to initiates; this is an especially strong feature of Tibetan art. The art of Indian Religions esp. Hindus in its numerous sectoral divisions is governed by sacred texts called the Aagama which describes the ratio and proportion of the icon, called taalmaana as well as mood of the central figure in a context. For example, Narasimha an incarnation of Vishnu though considered a wrathful deity but in few contexts is depicted in pacified mood.
Although iconic depictions of, or concentrating on, a single figure are the dominant type of Buddhist image, large stone relief or fresco narrative cycles of the Life of the Buddha, or tales of his previous lives, are found at major sites like Sarnath, Ajanta, and Borobudor, especially in earlier periods. Conversely, in Hindu art, narrative scenes have become rather more common in recent centuries, especially in miniature paintings of the lives of Krishna and Rama.
Christian art features Christian iconography, prominently developed in the medieval era and renaissance, and is a prominent aspect of Christian media.   Aniconism was rejected within Christian theology from the outset, and the development of early Christian art and architecture occurred within the first two centuries after Jesus.   Small images in the Catacombs of Rome show orans figures, portraits of Christ and some saints, and a limited number of "abbreviated representations" of biblical episodes emphasizing deliverance. From the Constantinian period monumental art borrowed motifs from Roman Imperial imagery, classical Greek and Roman religion and popular art – the motif of Christ in Majesty owes something to both Imperial portraits and depictions of Zeus. In the Late Antique period iconography began to be standardized, and to relate more closely to Biblical texts, although many gaps in the canonical Gospel narratives were plugged with matter from the apocryphal gospels. Eventually, the Church would succeed in weeding most of these out, but some remain, like the ox and ass in the Nativity of Christ.
After the period of Byzantine iconoclasm iconographical innovation was regarded as unhealthy, if not heretical, in the Eastern Church, though it still continued at a glacial pace. More than in the West, traditional depictions were often considered to have authentic or miraculous origins, and the job of the artist was to copy them with as little deviation as possible. The Eastern church also never accepted the use of monumental high relief or free-standing sculpture, which it found too reminiscent of paganism. Most modern Eastern Orthodox icons are very close to their predecessors of a thousand years ago, though development, and some shifts in meaning, have occurred – for example, the old man wearing a fleece in conversation with Saint Joseph usually seen in Orthodox Nativities seems to have begun as one of the shepherds, or the prophet Isaiah, but is now usually understood as the "Tempter" (Satan). 
In both East and West, numerous iconic types of Christ, Mary and saints and other subjects were developed; the number of named types of icons of Mary, with or without the infant Christ, was especially large in the East, whereas Christ Pantocrator was much the commonest image of Christ. Especially important depictions of Mary include the Hodegetria and Panagia types. Traditional models evolved for narrative paintings, including large cycles covering the events of the Life of Christ, the Life of the Virgin, parts of the Old Testament, and, increasingly, the lives of popular saints. Especially in the West, a system of attributes developed for identifying individual figures of saints by a standard appearance and symbolic objects held by them; in the East they were more likely to identified by text labels.
From the Romanesque period sculpture on churches became increasingly important in Western art, and probably partly because of the lack of Byzantine models, became the location of much iconographic innovation, along with the illuminated manuscript, which had already taken a decisively different direction from Byzantine equivalents, under the influence of Insular art and other factors. Developments in theology and devotional practice produced innovations like the subject of the Coronation of the Virgin and the Assumption, Both associated with the Franciscans, as were many other developments. Most painters remained content to copy and slightly modify the works of others, and it is clear that the clergy, by whom or for whose churches most art was commissioned, often specified what they wanted shown in great detail.
The theory of typology, by which the meaning of most events of the Old Testament was understood as a "type" or pre-figuring of an event in the life of, or aspect of, Christ or Mary was often reflected in art, and in the later Middle Ages came to dominate the choice of Old Testament scenes in Western Christian art.
Whereas in the Romanesque and Gothic periods the great majority of religious art was intended to convey often complex religious messages as clearly as possible, with the arrival of Early Netherlandish painting iconography became highly sophisticated, and in many cases appears to be deliberately enigmatic, even for a well-educated contemporary. The subtle layers of meaning uncovered by modern iconographical research in works of Robert Campin such as the Mérode Altarpiece, and of Jan van Eyck such as the Madonna of Chancellor Rolin and the Washington Annunciation lie in small details of what are on first viewing very conventional representations. When Italian painting developed a taste for enigma, considerably later, it most often showed in secular compositions influenced by Renaissance Neo-Platonism.
From the 15th century religious painting gradually freed itself from the habit of following earlier compositional models, and by the 16th century ambitious artists were expected to find novel compositions for each subject, and direct borrowings from earlier artists are more often of the poses of individual figures than of whole compositions. The Reformation soon restricted most Protestant religious painting to Biblical scenes conceived along the lines of history painting, and after some decades the Catholic Council of Trent reined in somewhat the freedom of Catholic artists.
Secular painting became far more common in the West from the Renaissance, and developed its own traditions and conventions of iconography, in history painting, which includes mythologies, portraits, genre scenes, and even landscapes, not to mention modern media and genres like photography, cinema, political cartoons, comic books and anime.
Renaissance mythological painting was in theory reviving the iconography of its Classical Antiquity, but in practice themes like Leda and the Swan developed on largely original lines, and for different purposes. Personal iconographies, where works appear to have significant meanings individual to, and perhaps only accessible by, the artist, go back at least as far as Hieronymous Bosch, but have become increasingly significant with artists like Goya, William Blake, Gauguin, Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Joseph Beuys.
Iconography, often of aspects of popular culture, is a concern of other academic disciplines including Semiotics, Anthropology, Sociology, Media Studies, Communication Studies, and Cultural Studies. These analyses in turn have affected conventional art history, especially concepts such as signs in semiotics. 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.  In the age of Internet, the new global history of the visual production of Humanity (Histiconologia  ) includes History of Art and history of all kind of images or medias.
Contemporary iconography research often draws on theories of visual framing to address such diverse issues as the iconography of climate change created by different stakeholders,  the iconography that international organizations create about natural disasters,  the iconography of epidemics disseminated in the press,  and the iconography of suffering found in social media. 
An iconography study in communication science analyzed stock photos used in press reporting to depict the social issue of child sexual abuse.  Based on a sample of N=1,437 child sexual abuse (CSA) online press articles that included 419 stock photos, a CSA iconography (i.e. a set of typical image motifs for a topic) was revealed that relate to criminal reporting: The CSA iconography visualizes 1. crime contexts, 2. course of the crime and people involved, and 3. consequences of the crime for the people involved (e.g., image motif: perpetrator in handcuffs).
A non-exhaustive list:
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic churches. They are not simply artworks; "an icon is a sacred image used in religious devotion". The most common subjects include Christ, Mary, saints and angels. Although especially associated with portrait-style images concentrating on one or two main figures, the term also covers most of the religious images in a variety of artistic media produced by Eastern Christianity, including narrative scenes, usually from the Bible or the lives of saints.
Iconology is a method of interpretation in cultural history and the history of the visual arts used by Aby Warburg, Erwin Panofsky and their followers that uncovers the cultural, social, and historical background of themes and subjects in the visual arts. Though Panofsky differentiated between iconology and iconography, the distinction is not very widely followed, "and they have never been given definitions accepted by all iconographers and iconologists". Few 21st-century authors continue to use the term "iconology" consistently, and instead use iconography to cover both areas of scholarship.
In art, a Madonna is a representation of Mary, either alone or with her child Jesus. These images are central icons for both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The word is from Italian ma donna 'my lady' (archaic). The Madonna and Child type is very prevalent in Christian iconography, divided into many traditional subtypes especially in Eastern Orthodox iconography, often known after the location of a notable icon of the type, such as the Theotokos of Vladimir, Agiosoritissa, Blachernitissa, etc., or descriptive of the depicted posture, as in Hodegetria, Eleusa, etc.
Christian art is sacred art which uses subjects, themes, and imagery from Christianity. Most Christian groups use or have used art to some extent, including early Christian art and architecture and Christian media.
Erwin Panofsky was a German-Jewish art historian, whose academic career was pursued mostly in the U.S. after the rise of the Nazi regime.
Early Netherlandish painting, traditionally known as the Flemish Primitives, refers to the work of artists active in the Burgundian and Habsburg Netherlands during the 15th- and 16th-century Northern Renaissance period. It flourished especially in the cities of Bruges, Ghent, Mechelen, Leuven, Tournai and Brussels, all in present-day Belgium. The period begins approximately with Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck in the 1420s and lasts at least until the death of Gerard David in 1523, although many scholars extend it to the start of the Dutch Revolt in 1566 or 1568–Max J. Friedländer's acclaimed surveys run through Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Early Netherlandish painting coincides with the Early and High Italian Renaissance, but the early period is seen as an independent artistic evolution, separate from the Renaissance humanism that characterised developments in Italy. Beginning in the 1490s, as increasing numbers of Netherlandish and other Northern painters traveled to Italy, Renaissance ideals and painting styles were incorporated into northern painting. As a result, Early Netherlandish painters are often categorised as belonging to both the Northern Renaissance and the Late or International Gothic.
The Allegory of Prudence is an oil-on-canvas painting attributed to the Italian artist Titian and his assistants. The painting portrays three human heads, each facing in a different direction, above three animal heads. It is in the National Gallery, London.
The Nativity of Jesus has been a major subject of Christian art since the 4th century.
A religious image is a work of visual art that is representational and has a religious purpose, subject or connection. All major historical religions have made some use of religious images, although their use is strictly controlled and often controversial in many religions, especially Abrahamic ones. General terms associated with religious images include cult image, a term for images, especially in sculpture which are or have been claimed to be the object of religious worship in their own right, and icon strictly a term for Eastern Orthodox religious images, but often used more widely, in and outside the area of religion.
Catholic art is art produced by or for members of the Catholic Church. This includes visual art (iconography), sculpture, decorative arts, applied arts, and architecture. In a broader sense, Catholic music and other art may be included as well. Expressions of art may or may not attempt to illustrate, supplement and portray in tangible form Catholic teaching. Catholic art has played a leading role in the history and development of Western art since at least the 4th century. The principal subject matter of Catholic art has been the life and times of Jesus Christ, along with people associated with him, including his disciples, the saints, and motifs from the Catholic Bible.
The life of Christ as a narrative cycle in Christian art comprises a number of different subjects showing events from the life of Jesus on Earth. They are distinguished from the many other subjects in art showing the eternal life of Christ, such as Christ in Majesty, and also many types of portrait or devotional subjects without a narrative element.
The Hand of God, or Manus Dei in Latin, also known as Dextera domini/dei, is a motif in Jewish and Christian art, especially of the Late Antique and Early Medieval periods, when depiction of Yahweh or God the Father as a full human figure was considered unacceptable. The hand, sometimes including a portion of an arm, or ending about the wrist, is used to indicate the intervention in or approval of affairs on Earth by God, and sometimes as a subject in itself. It is an artistic metaphor that is generally not intended to indicate that a hand was physically present or seen at any subject depicted. The Hand is seen appearing from above in a fairly restricted number of narrative contexts, often in a blessing gesture, but sometimes performing an action. In later Christian works it tends to be replaced by a fully realized figure of God the Father, whose depiction had become acceptable in Western Christianity, although not in Eastern Orthodox or Jewish art. Though the hand of God has traditionally been understood as a symbol for God's intervention or approval of human affairs, it is also possible that the hand of God reflects the anthropomorphic conceptions of the deity that may have persisted in late antiquity.
The Allegory of Faith, also known as Allegory of the Catholic Faith, is a Dutch Golden Age painting by Johannes Vermeer from about 1670–1672. It has been in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York since 1931.
For about a thousand years, in obedience to interpretations of specific Bible passages, pictorial depictions of God in Western Christianity had been avoided by Christian artists. At first only the Hand of God, often emerging from a cloud, was portrayed. Gradually, portrayals of the head and later the whole figure were depicted, and by the time of the Renaissance artistic representations of God the Father were freely used in the Western Church.
The Hetoimasia, Etimasia, prepared throne, Preparation of the Throne, ready throne or Throne of the Second Coming is the Christian version of the symbolic subject of the empty throne found in the art of the ancient world, whose meaning has changed over the centuries. In Ancient Greece it represented Zeus, chief of the gods, and in early Buddhist art it represented the Buddha. In Early Christian art and Early Medieval art it is found in both the East and Western churches, and represents either Christ, or sometimes God the Father as part of the Trinity. In the Middle Byzantine period, from about 1000, it came to represent more specifically the throne prepared for the Second Coming of Christ, a meaning it has retained in Eastern Orthodox art to the present.
Alexei Mikhailovich Lidov is a Russian art historian and byzantinist, an author of the concepts hierotopy and spatial icon, member of the Russian Academy of Arts.
The Transfiguration of Jesus has been an important subject in Christian art, above all in the Eastern church, some of whose most striking icons show the scene.
Man of Sorrows is a small Early Netherlandish oil on wood panel painting completed c. 1485–1495. It is attributed to Geertgen tot Sint Jans and in the tradition of the devotional images of the "Man of Sorrows", which typically show Christ before his crucifixion, naked above the waist, bearing the wounds of his Passion. The panel has an unusually complex and suffocating spatial design, and depicts the mocking of Jesus, and his grieving mother. The panel is steeped in both complex iconography and deep pathos. Christ is in obvious pain and holds his wounds up for the viewer. He looks out while white robed weeping angels bear the Arma Christi -objects associated with his crucifixion and death- float around him. The attending saints include Mary and the Magdalene.
Craig S. Harbison was an American art historian specialising in 15th and 16th-century Flemish and Northern Renaissance painting. He was Professor Emeritus of Art History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. While attending Princeton University in the early 1970s, he studied iconographic analysis under Erwin Panofsky and Wolfgang Stechow. He had previously studied at Oberlin College, Ohio.
Jan Białostocki was one of the most famous Polish art historians of the 20th century.
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