Iconclass

Understanding Iconclass

Henri van de Waal began development of Iconclass in the early 1950s while Professor of Art History at the University of Leiden, as a method of classifying subjects, themes, and motifs in Western art. Since 2006, it has been managed by the Netherlands Institute for Art History.

Today, Iconclass is the internationally-accepted standard for the description and retrieval of subjects represented in images, and is used by libraries, museums, and art galleries all over the world to describe images in their collections. Visit the Iconclass website to explore the system, or learn more about its features below:

Illustration of the bones of the hand from Folger STC 19189.

Subject-Specific

Iconclass is broken up into ten major subject areas: Abstract, Non-representational Art; Religion and Magic; Nature; Human Being, Man in General; Society, Civilization, Culture; Abstract Ideas and Concepts; History; Bible; Literature; and Classical Mythology and Ancient History.

Illustration of grafted tree branches from Folger STC 5874.

Hierarchical

The ten major subject areas of Iconclass are further broken down into a series of increasingly specific levels of keywords. The Iconclass browser allows the user to travel through the levels of the hierarchy, as well as to search for these more specific keywords within it.

Illustration of world map from Folger B3213.

Multilingual

Iconclass is available to be fully searched and browsed in English, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese. Additionally, the vocabulary has been partially translated into in Finnish and Norwegian and experimentally translated into Chinese and Dutch (not yet online).

See How it Works

Illustration of wolf in sheep’s clothing from Folger STC 6608 Copy 1.

25F23(WOLF) beasts of prey, predatory animals: wolf

47I213(+9351) sheep (+ skin, fleece, hide, fur, leather)

73C824(+0) false prophets in sheep’s clothing ~ parable of the good shepherd (Matthew 7:15) (+ variant)

Illustration of the Heidelberg Tun from Folger STC 5808 Copy 2.

41A775 wooden container: barrel, cask, bucket

41C121 giving drink

41C2411 wine-cellar

51G1 Largeness, Magnitude

61E(HEIDELBERG) names of cities and villages (HEIDELBERG)

61G(HEIDELBERG TUN) names of artefacts and man-made objects (buildings excluded) (HEIDELBERG TUN)

Illustration of Solomon’s Temple from Folger STC 2239.

48C1615(+722) colonnade (+ ancient near-Eastern art)

71I4222(+0) transportation of the trees from the Lebanon to Jerusalem (+ variant)

71I433 the palace of Solomon (1 Kings 7:1-12)

Illustration of armor from Folger STC 161.

45C16(MUSKET) firearms (MUSKET)

45C22 armour

Explore Further

Logo for Arkyves

Arkyves Viewer

Users on-site at the Folger have access to the full Iconclass browser at Arkyves, containing all of the images from BBI, as well as over 800,000 additional images from a number of institutions all over the world.

Folger Digital Images

Digital images from BBI are also available to be searched, browsed, and downloaded on LUNA, as are over 140,000 additional digital images from the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Logo for Folger Shakespeare Library

BBI images used on this page:

Floral illustration in site header from folio 16 of Folger STC 19459.
Illustration of the bones of the hand from page 220 of Folger STC 19189.
Illustration of grafted tree branches from page 33 of Folger STC 5874.
Illustration of world map from plate facing page 104 of Folger B3213.
Illustration of wolf in sheep’s clothing from page facing page 1 of Folger STC 6608 Copy 1.
Illustration of the Heidelberg Tun from plate facing page 486 of Folger STC 5808 Copy 2.
Illustration of Solomon’s Temple from leaf Q3 verso (folio 123 verso) of Folger STC 2239.
Illustration of armor from plate after leaf N6 verso (page 156) of Folger STC 161.

British Book Illustrations