Illustrations and decoration in printed books

Hallo everyone,

I am interested in printed book decoration and printer’s marks and as I look more deeply into the possibilities of labelling with Iconclass, I wondered whether a further extension of notations would be suitable.

There are already notations in Iconclass to label book illustrations, such as

49M411 frontispiece
49M412 vignette
49M413 printed historiated initial
49M431 device (trade-mark of printer or publisher)

But for further ornamental decoration, only a broad notation applies:
49M42 ornamental decoration ~ printed matter, book

In addition to initials, vignettes and frontispieces, I could imagine further types of ornamental decoration in the notation section 49M41, for example, border and frame decoration as two further characteristics (in German „Leiste/Zierleiste/Randleiste/Kopfleiste“ and „Rahmen/Zierrahmen/ Titeleinfassung/ornamentale Umrahmung“).

To start, here are links to two examples from the 16th century (in combination with other elements). :
border (16th century)
frame (16th century)

I can’t post more examples right now, but maybe I can provide examples from the 17th and 18th centuries later.

So far from my part. Looking forward to getting in touch with you about this.

Interesting, thanks for raising the point Friederike.

In a related discussion some time ago I was speaking with Sandy Wilkinson from UCD about adding a:

49M4131 printed inhabited initial

With the translations:

Bewohnte Initiale (gedruckt)
Initiale habitées (imprimé)
Iniziale abitata (stampato)
Inicial habitado (impresso)

This is to distinguish a purely decorated initial from a figurative one.

Looking forward to seeing some other suggestions, then we can coordinate te additions to the browser.

Dear @Friederike - do you have some more concrete suggestions on which notations you would like to suggest adding to the system? (and what their textual translations should be)

Dear @epoz, it might be suitable for the notations not to be too narrow to start with, since ornaments were used variably, ornamental borders appeared as headpiece or could be put together to a frame (see here an example), frames could be title frames by framing title pages, but also be framing other text pages or also illustrations. From a German point of view, I think, these types could be grouped under two categories. It seems the same to me in English, although I am not quite as familiar with it and the classification terms seems to vary depending on the project, they are used for. But then, there would still be the possibility to further specify below these notations if necessary.

From my point of view, a classification under the notation 49M41 instead of 49M42 could work well, since the vignette is already placed there too.

With that in mind, here’s what I would suggest for discussion:

49M414 printed border ornament

with the translations:
Zierleiste (gedruckt)
bandeau (imprimé)
fregio (stampato)

49M415 printed frame ornament

with the translations:
Zierrahmen (gedruckt)
encadrement de page (imprimé)
cornice (stampato)

What do you think?

Here are some more image examples for border decoration in the 17th century and 18th century.

And for frame decoration in the 17th century and the 18th century.

As a reminder to self, posting it here, see Glossary of Early Modern Popular Print Genres


thanks for your suggestions. They do seem to provide a good starting point for discussion. I hope to be able to respond in more detail later this week.


To understand your suggestions:

would these illustrated pages all fall in the (proposed new) category
49M415 printed frame ornament?


including the last one?

And the decorations at the top of these pages would fit the proposed category
49M414 printed border ornament?


@HansBrandhorst ,

thank you for the pictures, the examples reflect my suggestions well. Especially in the case of title frames, I think that the distinction from the engraved title page (what is called “Kupfertitel” in German) cannot always be drawn precisely. The last frame-example is definitely debatable. As far as I can tell from the picture, it could rather be an engraved titlepage. These illustrations are usually related to the content, but this is not always easy to judge and may not apply here. But the proposed category could be broad enough to apply it in ambiguous cases with many ornamental elements like this last one too, I would think.

Exactly my problem as a non-specialist: this is a domain where function, technique and form all intersect, which could lead to endless discussions about the “proper” way to describe these objects. IMHO the role of Iconclass is to help bring the historical “opponent” in the field in the first place. A certain amount of “vagueness” (or strategic ambiguity …) could then be productive. First we collect sufficient samples, tag them with standardized concepts, make them available for inspection by our colleagues - and then we may re-assess those concepts and perhaps refine them.