ico·​nog·​ra·​phy | \ ˌī-kə-ˈnä-grə-fē How to pronounce iconography (audio) \
plural iconographies

Definition of iconography

1 : the traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject
2 : pictorial material relating to or illustrating a subject
3 : the imagery or symbolism of a work of art, an artist, or a body of art

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Did You Know?

If you saw a 17th-century painting of a man writing at a desk with a lion at his feet, would you know you were looking at St. Jerome, translator of the Bible, who, according to legend, once pulled a thorn from the paw of a lion, which thereafter became his devoted friend? And if a painting showed a young woman reclining on a bed with a shower of gold descending on her, would you recognize her as Danaë, locked up in a tower to keep her away from the lustful Zeus, who then managed to gain access to her by transforming himself into golden light (or golden coins)? An iconographic approach to art can make museum-going a lot of fun—and amateur iconographers know there are also plenty of symbols lurking in the images that advertisers bombard us with daily.

Examples of iconography in a Sentence

the iconography of the 1960s
Recent Examples on the Web But whereas Johnson specialized in imagery meant to shock and titillate—typified by his AT&T Building of 1977–1984 in New York, a cartoon Chippendale highboy—Pei favored iconography that aimed to soothe and impress. Martin Filler, The New York Review of Books, "I.M. Pei: Establishment Modernism Lite," 24 May 2019 But West has always been making worship music, both in his literal embrace of religious themes and iconography, and also in his belief that songs should be a vehicle for moral tugs of war, philosophical reckoning and ecstatic praise. Jon Caramanica, New York Times, "Kanye West, Heretic by Nature, Finds God," 27 Oct. 2019 Such domestic details have no part in the official Che iconography, Anderson adds, because propagandists thought such tenderness would undermine his reputation as a selfless revolutionary martyr. Lisette Poole, Smithsonian, "Roaring Through Cuba With Che Guevara’s Son," 24 Oct. 2019 Then there’s the iconography: the Holocaust Memorial sits at the center of a reunified Berlin. Lizzie Widdicombe, The New Yorker, "What Can We Learn from the Germans About Confronting Our History?," 21 Oct. 2019 Bruce Springsteen Springsteen kicked off the summer with his 19th studio album, a solo effort that draws on Western iconography and the unique sounds of Southern California to craft a meditative, reflective tapestry. EW.com, "EW staff playlist: What we're listening to in October 2019," 2 Oct. 2019 Overloaded backpacks, crossing guards and 3-ring binders all have their places in the iconography, but nothing says school like a sharp, yellow, No. 2 pencil. Cindy Dampier, chicagotribune.com, "Not just for bubbling in: Pencils are cool again — here’s how to get the best ones for back-to-school and beyond," 9 Aug. 2019 Notes on Camp has a good, entirely believable back-and-forth between gay iconography from the 1970s and, say, Classical Greek sculpture. Brian T. Allen, National Review, "Time for a Riot: Camp Fashion at the Met, and a Real Riot at the Stonewall," 31 Aug. 2019 On top of that, Al-Zabadani looks like a major city onscreen, when the village of Marwan’s father was exactly that, a village, so there’s a clear mismatch in visual iconography. Boyd Van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter, "'All This Victory' ('Jeedar El Sot'): Film Review | Venice 2019," 15 Sep. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'iconography.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of iconography

1678, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for iconography

Medieval Latin iconographia, from Greek eikonographia sketch, description, from eikonographein to describe, from eikon- + graphein to write — more at carve

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Time Traveler for iconography

Time Traveler

The first known use of iconography was in 1678

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Statistics for iconography

Last Updated

3 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Iconography.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/iconography. Accessed 8 December 2019.

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More Definitions for iconography


How to pronounce iconography (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of iconography

: the images or symbols related to something

More from Merriam-Webster on iconography

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with iconography

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about iconography

Comments on iconography

What made you want to look up iconography? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to constrict the range or activity of

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