Medieval Illustrations

I used ICONCLASS in a datathon: students annotated medieval illustrations of the labours of the months in digitized manuscripts. Some of these human activities are not that easy to describe and others are closely linked to the concept of the artes mechanicae, so I thought, it would be worth to annotate around 100 images manually.

I would like to give a little feedback - first of all: we enjoyed using the classification and are happy to integrate the notations in our datasets - and I would like to ask, if it could be possible to add two notations (maybe in the future, when the need ist expressed by more than one user)?

We missed the activity “slaughter an animal” - a rather common activity even without religious context, so we used 47B181 instead.
And we wanted to distinguish between blood letting and cupping, but we could only use 49G34.

Thank you and best wishes

Katharina (and students),

In the digital catalogue of the illuminated manuscripts of the Dutch Koninklijke Bibliotheek we most often used 47B1814 butcher, slaughterman for the theme “Slaughtering an animal” - (usually found as an illustration of the labours of the month December; here from the psalter The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek MS 76 F 13, fol. 12v.)
Thus we emphasized the actor rather than the action. We could have used 34F12 man killing animal, but for some reason - which I cannot remember, as we did this catalogue some 25 years ago :wink: - we did not. Perhaps we retrieved the concept via the keyword “slaughtering” rather than “killing”, which seems to be what your students also did?

So my first question is whether simply applying this second concept would solve your first problem? If so, we can limit the editorial work to adding a cross reference from “butcher” to “killing an animal”. It might also be a good idea then to add the same cross reference at 41C691 slaughtered ox or pig.

The present situation for the concepts for “blood-letting” is thus:

The snippets below illustrate the three concepts (in the Arkyves database):

The problem is that “cupping-glasses” are mentioned as an example of blood-letting methods, which makes the more general concept blood-letting less general.

We could split the concept in accordance with different methods of blood-letting, for example:

  • 49G34 bleeding, blood-letting
  • 49G341 bleeding, blood-letting with the aid of blood-suckers
  • 49G342 cupping man (~ bleeding, blood-letting)
  • 49G343 blood-letting with cupping glasses
  • 49G344 blood-letting by cutting

This should not create too much of a problem for databases that already include images of blood-letting. It adds the possibility to be more specific, but it does not make the existing - more general - tag 49G34 bleeding, blood-letting “false”.

Don’t hesitate to invite your students to join the discussion!

Hans Brandhorst

Thank you, Hans Brandhorst, for your detailed answer and the suggested solutions!

I invited the students to join the conversation, because we discussed exactly the options you name here, but weren’t happy with the focus on the actor instead of acting - because the labours of the month include the aspect of doing the right work/activity at the right time and not the aspect of a profession. We added also “slaughtered ox or pig”, but felt a bit limited when it comes to a goat :wink: And “Man killing an animal” - I’d rather let the students explain, why they didn’t choose it.

I think your suggestion for 49G34 bleeding, blood-letting would solve our problems, but also I don’t want to speak for all.
I will get back to the forum with an update, thanks so much
Katharina Pick


Later this year we shall send out an invitation to join an “Iconclass Editorial Board” - and it sounds that your students are serious candidates!

As to the slaughtered goat, it would be trivial to change

  • 41C691 slaughtered ox or pig
  • 41C691 slaughtered animal, e.g. ox, pig, sheep, goat
    which would then of course invite further expansion when images of yet other slaughtered animals are encountered.
    If so, there is always the option to express the “dead state” of an animal with the help of KEYS, for example:
  • 47I214(+963) goat (+ dying animal; death of animal; dead animal)
    Variants of this “trick” are available for almost every imaginable animal, including “fabulous ones”.

I can imagine the hesitation to use 34F12 man killing animal as the context suggests this is more appropriate for killing a wild animal (34F man and (wild) animal). In Labours of the month - but not just there - we are looking at a “professional” situation with - usually - a domestic animal.

It would be prudent to collect more data about the use of this concept before considering another solution, for example by adding “slaughtering” to the processes described in the set of KEYS for 47B18 handicrafts ~ production of food, drink, stimulants, etc.

An example of the use of 47B1814(+51) butcher, slaughterman (+ preparing, cleaning, sorting, selecting ~ industrial processes) to tag an emblem in Johann Ginder’s Geistliche Seelen-Artzt is found on the Emblematica Online website.
It is conceivable to expand the meaning of the KEY here by adding “slaughtering”.