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Medieval Art Resources: Iconography/Symbolism

A guide to major sources of information for researching the art of medieval Europe

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Guides to Iconography & Symbolism



Butler's Lives of the Saints
Saints and Their Emblems 

Saints in Art 
Butler is the standard, classic source of biographical information on the principal saints.  It is arranged by the saint's feast day. The other books describe how individual saints have been represented in works of art and are very helpful in understanding the scenes in which they are depicted. 
Old Testament Figures in Art
Gospel Figures in Art
Retelling the stories of figures from the Old and New Testaments, these books are illustrated with full-color reproductions of art works to illustrate how these stories have frequently been represented in the visual arts.
Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art
Dictionary of Symbols in Western Art
Symbols and Legends in Western Art 
These are exactly what they sound like, providing brief definitions for a wide range of subjects, themes, and concepts encountered in Western art. They supplement each other; so, don't pick only one!
Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography 
Iconographie de l'Art Chretien by Louis Reau
Iconography of Christian Art by Gertrud Schiller
Iconographie de l'art profane au Moyen-Age et a la Renaissance by Raimond van Marle 
The first of these books discusses both secular and religious iconography by broad themes or activities (e.g., envy or expulsion). The others are classics in the field. Even if your French is not that good, it is worth consulting Reau or van Marle. All deal with the variations and evolution of major iconographic themes. Bibliographical references and numerous illustrations are also provided.

Humanities Librarian

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Leanna Goodwater
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