CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: ICONOGRAPHY, CHRISTIAN
The science of the description, history, and interpretation of the traditional
representations of God, the saints and other sacred subjects in art. Almost from the
beginning the Church has employed the arts as potent means of instruction and
edification. In the first centuries the walls of the catacombs were decorated with
paintings and mosaics (see CATACOMBS), and in all later times churches have lent
their walls, ceilings, and windows as well as their altars, furniture, and liturgical
vessels and books, to be adorned with scenes from the Old and the New Testament,
from the lives and legends of the saints, and even from old mythologies, modified, of
course, and harmonized with Christian teaching. (For the details of Christian
iconography see the articles, DIPTYCHS; IVORIES; METAL-WORK; MOSAICS;
PAINTING; RELIQUARIES; SCULPTURE; WINDOWS; WOOD-CARVING.)
The object of iconography is to give the history of these various representations, to note
their prevalence or absence at some particular time or in some particular place, to
compare those of different lands and different periods, to explain the personal or
historical, and to interpret the symbolical. Studied thus, they have an important
historical and dogmatic interest, as they attest the unity of ecclesiastical tradition and
the faith of the ages in which they were produced.
Special articles dealing with subjects of Christian iconography, besides those already
mentioned, are ANCHOR; DOVE; EUCHARIST, EARLY SYMBOLS OF; FISH,
SYMBOLISM OF; LAMB; NIMBUS. See also ECCLESIASTICAL ART.
Transcribed by Michael C. Tinkler.
Taken from the New Advent Web Page (www.knight.org/advent).
This article is part of the Catholic Encyclopedia Project, an effort aimed at placing the
entire Catholic Encyclopedia on the World Wide Web. The coordinator is Kevin Knight,
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more information please download the file cathen.txt/.zip.