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Understanding Iconography

jeremy | Wednesday January 06, 2010

Categories: Other Topics, Iconography, Theory, Semiotic Theory, Understanding Media, Understanding Key Concepts, Understanding Key Topics

In Media Studies we see iconography as part of genre, and particularly film genre. Students need to know the term and how it is used. It is quite a complex concept, that informs image analysis and the deconstruction of genre. Iconography originates from the study of art.

In Europe in the15th & 16th centuries artists creating work of a Christian nature would look up reference books to check the colours, composition, hand gestures, poses and facial expressions that past masters traditionally used, because they conveyed the most significant meaning to the ordinary person.

These meaningful images came to be known as iconic, and their use is iconography.

For example most paintings of the Madonna, including modern ones, show her in a robe of deep blue. The Virgin wears a blue robe, the colour symbolic of heaven and a reminder of the Virgin’s role as Queen of Heaven. This colour came to be an icon for her role as a spiritual mother who has dignity and religious importance. The blue robe is part of the iconography of this form of art throughout the centuries.

Right - Madonna and Child by Donielle Boal fineartamerica.com/featured/madonna-and-child…

Left - Madonna and Five Angels by Botticelli


Steve Campsall’s definition of iconography is useful. (Steve Campsall - Media - GCSE Film Analysis Guide (3) – SJC)

Iconography is an important aspect of genre. We expect to see certain objects on screen when we see a particular genre, for example, in a Western, dusty lonely roads, saloon bars, cowboy hats and horses, jails, sheriffs badges, guns, etc..

In a modern horror film, we expect young girls, ‘normal’ objects, use of dark and light, etc. These ‘genre indicators’ are called the iconography of the mise-en-scene or genre.’

So iconography can be defined as those particular signs we associate with particular genres.

Film producers use images that belong to the iconography of the genre to excite audience...

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