Skip to Main Content

FA 199A: Methods and Approaches in the History of Art

Course guide developed for Professor Jonathan Unglaub by Lisa Zeidenberg, Creative Arts Librarian. Originally created by Darwin Scott.

Topic overview

Grove Art Online

Creative Arts Librarian

Comparative iconography: key print resource

Subject terms

For optimal results when conducting iconography-based searches in OneSearch, WorldCat, and many other databases using Library of Congress subject descriptors, it is important to understand how the Library of Congress constructs subject headings to describe various aspects of iconography and iconology. 

Power Words for Searching Iconography

  • Most common:
    • Name of the figure + art (for example, David, King of Israel -- Art)
    • Noun (an object, concept, or collective noun) + in art (for example, Devil in art)
  • Other options:
    • symbolism
    • themes
    • motives
    • image
    • attributes
  • Note that neither iconography nor iconology is used in Library of Congress subject headings!

A Sample of Library of Congress Subject Headings Covering Iconography

Animals in art Art and mythology
Art, Medieval --Themes, motives Buddhist art and symbolism
Christian art and symbolism Christian saints in art
Grotesque in art Image (Theology)
Jesus Christ -- Passion -- Art Jewish art and symbolism
Jews in art John, the Apostle, Saint--Art
Mary, Blessed Virgin, Saint -- Annunciation--Art Monsters in art
Painting -- Themes, motives Patriotism in art
Signs and symbols in art Symbolism in architecture
Symbolism in art -- Greece Symbolism in art -- United States
Symbolism of colors Vices in art


Bibliography of the History of Art (BHA) search terms

This resource has its own set of subject headings that differ considerably from those used by the Library of Congress:

  • Iconography (not "art" or "in art" as for the Library of Congress)


Searching major collections

Many websites of major art museums and other institutions now provide some sort of focused keyword or subject search engine to find works of art. These databases can be extremely useful for searching on a particular iconographical topic. Here are a few sample sites:

Dictionaries of symbols in art

Note that most of the key resources for this research are available in print only.

General reference resource