Adding Iconclass to an existing database: the Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie

Half a century after its publication the Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie (LCI) is still the most comprehensive single source of information about Christian iconography. Recently Brill published a digital edition of this classic research tool.

The digital edition preserved the original content and format of the Lexikon to make sure all the references in existing scholarly literature continue to resolve. New functionalities were added that can only exist in a digital environment, e.g. full text searching of the OCR-ed text and Google Translate support to allow readers with imperfect command of German to still use the lexicon.

Most relevant for a forum about Iconclass and its applications, however, is that all of the Lexikon’s original (German) lemmata were tagged with Iconclass concepts. It is of interest here not only because this concordance created additional retrieval and linking possibilities for the Lexikon, but also because it provides a model for the addition of an Iconclass-layer to every retrieval system that uses a controlled vocabulary.
If you are considering adding Iconclass-based retrieval options to an online catalogue that has not made use of Iconclass, you may find the following explanation of use.

So, how did we go about adding Iconclass to Kirschbaum’s Lexikon and what are the functionalities it created?

Adding Iconclass to an existing system

Here is a fragment of the Lexikon in its new digital environment. It shows the start of the entry for BISCHOF (bishop). The layout of the original publication has been preserved to make sure the references made to the Lexikon in scholarly literature over the past half-century, are still valid.

As the menu buttons show, the Lexikon has been enriched in various ways in its digital format. The full text has been OCR-ed and processed with Google Translate. Thousands of digital reproductions were added in a process that is still on-going.
But here we shall focus on the ICONCLASS menu item. Clicking on the ICONCLASS button will reveal which concept has been selected as the equivalent of the lemma.

As you can see the lemma BISCHOF was connected to the Iconclass concept 11P3113 archbishop, bishop, etc. (Roman Catholic).
Linking the circa 7,800 lemmata to Iconclass concepts was a manual process. Not every lemma in LCI could be matched one-on-one to a perfectly fitting Iconclass equivalent. So, some 9,500 Iconclass concepts were used to create the concordance.
Once a lemma has been linked to an Iconclass concept, several additional functions present themselves. The Lexikon’s software allows users to tick the box for the Iconclass term - as shown above - which is then stored and activated as a search filter.

The Lexikon is organized alphabetically, the option to search with an Iconclass concept adds a non-alphabetic query principle to the Lexikon’s toolset. The query shown above retrieves the small set of lemmata to which the Iconclass notation 11P3113 was linked.
However, since every concept in Iconclass is also a link in an hierarchical chain of concepts, it is easy to use a “parent” concept to broaden the search.

The Lexikon software allows the user to put a query term - in this case 11P3113 archbishop, bishop, etc. (Roman Catholic) on hold while a broader term - 11P3 organization, functionaries and dignitaries in churches and in related institutions - replaces it as a search term.
As can be expected, the broader Iconclass term produces a richer harvest of lemmata and it does so in a way no alphabetically organized system can.

But there is more, as shown below.

The Iconclass concepts included in the concordance come with their own English definitions and English keywords. Searching with those English words - the example here is death female saint does not replace searching with the German words of the full text, but it does provide a useful, complementary option.

In a similar way a search can start with the English translation of Abendmahl, i.e. Last Supper. Because of the systematic organization of the Iconclass concepts it is then very easy to cast the net wider and gather all lemmata that were tagged as belonging to the Iconclass category 73D Passion of Christ:

In other words: with a simple query for a short code - 73D - more than 100 lemmata can be retrieved. And all are potentially relevant to the research of the story of the Passion of Christ.
Moreover, the same code also links the Lexikon to databases with iconographic information based on Iconclass, such as the German Bildindex’s 40,604 objects tagged with 73D:

1 Like