Iconology and Iconography

Paul Taylor

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:
Iconology and Iconography

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy



The words “iconology” and “iconography” are often confused, and they have never been given definitions accepted by all iconographers and iconologists. Panofsky 1955 (cited under General Overviews) defined “iconography” as the study of subject matter in the visual arts and “iconology” as an attempt to analyze the significance of that subject matter within the culture that produced it. This definition was prescriptive rather than descriptive, and many art historians before Erwin Panofsky who would have called themselves “iconographers” were engaged in investigations that Panofsky would have termed “iconological.” Another source of semantic disagreement has arisen from the perceived overinterpretations of Panofsky and his school, which have led some art historians to reject the word “iconology.” It seems useful, nevertheless, to keep a distinction between iconography and iconology, since it draws attention to a fundamental distinction between the study of words and the study of images. While iconology corresponds to the historical criticism of texts in literary studies, iconography has no obvious counterpart outside histories of the visual. At the same time, in art historical practice iconography and iconology feed into each other, as the literature surveyed in this bibliography shows.

Article.  8397 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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