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Examples of Iconography

Iconography is the use of images and symbols to portray a subject, movement or ideal. It can also be the use of certain symbols that convey certain genres such as religious iconography, iconography in art and iconography in film and television.

Religious Iconography

Here are examples of religious iconography:

  • The Virgin Mary is most often shown wearing a blue robe. This is symbolic of heaven and her spirituality.
  • The cross has been a religious icon since the second century and represents Christianity. Marking the sign of the cross on someone’s forehead or chest was used to ward off demons.
  • The Holy Spirit is many times shown as a dove. This comes from the story of Christ’s baptism when the Holy Spirit came from heaven like a dove. It is also used to represent an individual’s soul.
  • Christ is sometimes represented with a fish symbol. This comes from the Greek “icthus”, which is an anagram for Savior, Jesus Christ and Son of God.
  • A snake or monkey is used to represent evil.
  • The purity of the Virgin Mary is shown with lilies in a vase and a bowl or urn of water.
  • A halo, which is a circle of light surrounding a person, is widely used in religious paintings to denote a holy person or saint. Asian religious art uses flames, called mandorla, around the body or head.

Iconography in Art

Here are examples of iconography in art including cultural arts:

  • A red poppy is an icon for remembering those killed in wars, especially in World War I. Poppies are worn as a way of sharing in the grief felt for those lost in war.
  • The shape of a heart is widely used to symbolize love and romance.
  • There have been several symbols used for peace, including the peace sign and holding the first two fingers in a “V” shape. In ancient times the olive branch was used, as well as the dove.

Iconography in Film and Television

  • Icons for the Western genre of films includes ten gallon hats, spurs, horses, saloons, guns, jails, and the badge of the sheriff.
  • Icons for horror movies may include young girls, haunted houses, and contrasting shadow and light in darkened places.
  • Bad guys often wear black to symbolize evil and leather jackets, often black, are worn by rebels or tough guys.
  • Thrillers are often filmed in urban neighborhoods whereas scary movies are often set in the suburbs.
  • Science fiction movies have high tech gadgets and automobiles that fly.

More Examples of Iconography

  • Countries have symbols for their country including birds, animals, and plants. Many countries have chosen the eagle as their national animal, including the United States, Egypt, Serbia, Austria, the Philippines, Nigeria and Panama.
  • Iconography includes the use of flowers and some examples are: the calla lily for death or grief, the red rose for love and passion, and mistletoe for love and affection (as used by kissing under it).
  • Flags symbolize the country and even the colors have meaning. Red often represents bravery, blood, or revolution; blue can mean freedom, peace, or justice; green may symbolize agriculture, the earth, or Islam; and white may represent purity, innocence, or snow.
  • The Statue of Liberty is used as an icon of freedom, friendship, immigration and enlightenment.

Iconography provides a shortcut way to communicate. Over time an icon can become an easy way to describe a large idea in a very abbreviated way.


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