You are here:


Ever since Gombrich’s Art and Illusion and Goodman’s Languages of Art, the theory of images has been a lively and growing subject. And yet in all the many publications in the field, only a handful mention an approach which has been important in art history for centuries – iconography, ‘that branch of the history of art which concerns itself with the subject matter or meaning of works of art’, as Erwin Panofsky put it. There are good reasons for this: much recent work has been devoted to theories of resemblance, rather than what images can be taken to mean. And at the same time, iconography has seemed like a limited phenomenon. Panofsky, whose ‘Iconography and Iconology’ is still the most widely read statement of iconographic theory, argued that landscapes, still lifes and genre paintings did not have iconographical meanings. For him, iconography was a matter of decoding the attributes, stories and allegories of traditional art. So to those interested in images per se rather than high art, iconography has looked like a topic they can afford to ignore.

This lecture course will argue that images of all sorts, including photographs, can be said to have meanings, and that Panofsky was wrong to limit the scope of iconography. It will also try to show that the ways in which images acquire meanings vary, and require the careful analysis that linguists and philosophers are used to applying to language. Rather than confining itself to traditional attributes, stories and allegories, it will be concerned with works from around the world, including ancestor figures from Africa and Oceania, idols from Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica, European altarpieces and histories, and modern photographs and advertisements.

The course is open to anyone with an interest in the subject. There are no pre-requisites, and there will be no formal preparation.

Reading lists will be made available to registered students.


Paul Taylor is Curator of the Warburg Institute Photographic Collection. His book How Images Mean, on which the course is based, will appear with Paul Holberton Publishing in the autumn.


The course will be taught across five x two hour classes. After an introductory lecture devoted to basic terms, the course will go on to examine four principal kinds of ‘iconographic device’, the mechanism by which meaning comes to be attached to images: designation, attributes, narrative and likeness. Each session will have time for discussion.


Monday to Friday, 15 - 19 July 2024
3.00pm-5.00pm [British Summer Time]
Total = 10 hours


  • £130: Standard
  • £115: Warburg staff & fellows/external students/unwaged
  • £80: SAS & LAHP-funded students
  • £65: Warburg students


A limited number of fee-waiver bursaries are now available. Please complete the bursary application form and return with a brief CV by Friday 24 May 2024 to Please note, the number of bursaries awarded is dependent on the take up of paid places. Please apply early.

Meet the Warburg: Paul Taylor, Curator of the Photographic Collection

In this interview meet course tutor Paul Taylor