The Iconography of the Artworks

The Iconography of the Artworks : Adam and Eve, Albrecht Dürer, 1504. Engraving.

Iconography is an understanding of the subject matter and symbols of an artwork (Stokstad and Cothern, 2016, pg. 6).

Adam and Eve, Albrecht Dürer, 1504. Engraving.

The engraving depicts Adam and Eve on the backdrop of a Germanic forest. A tree trunk of a fig tree divides the engraving equally into two with the nude figures (save for the leaves covering their privates) of Adam and Eve on either side. The fig tree represents the biblical tree of knowledge. The mountain ash held by Adam to the left of the engraving symbolizes the tree of life. There’s a goat in the background perched on the edge of a cliff which symbolizes lust and lack of faith. The parrot on a branch above Adam’s head symbolizes wisdom and Mary Magdalene’s virgin birth. The mouse at Adam’s feet is possibly a symbol of male weakness to female pressure. The cat nonchalant cat between Eve’s feet and facing the mouse emphasizes this point.

The snake entwines around the fig tree with an apple in its mouth represents evil and appears to be giving the apple to Eve and probably also eating the apple. The bent-over nail fixing the snake’s tail the tree trunk is consistent with an early engraving of Dürer’s – The Prodigal Son. There’s speculation that links the snake emblem to the Munzer Family Crest.

Of the eight animals in the scene, four are believed to refer to four humors of the four temperament theory that proposes four fundamental personality types i.e. sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic, (Merenda, 1987). The elk, bull, cat, and rabbit in placid poses respectively represent melancholic, phlegmatic, choleric, and sanguine temperaments in perfect equilibrium.

The Iconography of the Artworks : The Founding of Tenochtitlan page from the Codex Mendoza, Aztec, 1545 CE.

The page is dominated by a blue rectangle represents the waters of the lake separating Tenochtitlan city from the mainland. The canals crisscrossing the capital are represented by blue diagonals. The signature at the top of the page is that of a 16th-century French royal cosmographer named André Thevet who first presented it to King Henry II, of France.

A small fire drill at the bottom right of the page refers to the New Fire Ceremony of the Aztecs. A blue frame of dates surrounded by a small triangle symbolizes the Tenoch’s 51 years of ruling the Aztec empire. An eagle perched on a cactus at the center of the page refers to the Aztec’s origin story. Red-tipped arrows (symbolizing the empire’s military might) and a round shield appear below a stone from which the cactus grows.

One of the ten founders of Tenochtitlan city, Tenoch, appears to the left of the cactus at the center. His name together with the other founders is written in block letters on his cloak in glyphic form. At the bottom of the page are two cities Colhuacan and Tenayucan defeated by the Aztec.

The Iconography of the Artworks : The Hip Pendant Representing an Iyoba (“Queen Mother”), Nigeria, c. 1550 CE.

The pendant is made of ivory which is associated with the color white in Benin and symbolizes the purity of Olokun the sea god. Ivory is also emblematic of royal wealth and power. The whiteness of the Ivory also symbolizes white chalk which was believed to have ritual purity. The pendant mask together with its counterpart symbolizes the legacy of the Benin Dynasty.

The mask depicts the soft features of its subject with carved scars on the forehead. Stylized mudfish and bearded Portuguese faces are curved in the tiara and collar to symbolize the King’s mortality and divinity.

The Iconography of the Artworks : Tar Beach, Faith Ringgold, 1988. Acrylic on canvas, and pieced cloth.

Tar Beach is part of Faith Ringgold’s series Women on a Bridge and depicts the fantasies of the main character and narrator Cassie Louise Lightfoot – flying over the George Washington Bridge. This flight through the night sky is symbolism by Ringgold of women’s total freedom. The bridge symbolizes the male patriarchy that women must confront in their efforts to liberate themselves.

Comparative Analysis of the Artwork Function

Albrecht Dürer’s Adam and Eve reveals more about the German Renaissance rather than the story in Genesis. The German forest reveals that the artist was proud of his German heritage and proportional figures are an indication of his fascination with the Italian tradition of classical contrapposto.

Contrastingly, the codex contains information about the Aztec empire. The organization of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, is given away by the Codex’s frontispiece. The piece corroborates miscellaneous information about the Aztec capital which is thought to have been below modern-day Mexico City. The division of the city of Tenochtitlan, (Hernández, 2018) into four parts not only mirrors then held belief that the universe was organized into the four cardinal points (North, East, South, and West.

The pendant mask has four scars, a number the people of Benin used to indicate the female gender. The Queen-mother’s powerful gaze is depicted by the iron inlaid pupils and eyes. Motifs in the form of a stylized mudfish and Portuguese bearded faces are associated with the spiritual deities Oba and Olokun the sea God. It is conceivable that the Portuguese voyagers were considered emissaries from Olokun who brought great wealth and power to the Oba


In the 21st century, emojis and GIFs (Graphic Interface Format) play the important role in adding the right emotional undertones to communication. Emojis have a striking resemblance to hieroglyphs used by ancient Sumerians and Egyptians to communicate. Hieroglyphs were succeeded by the alphabet which used symbols to represent phonetic sounds. The expansion of knowledge and critical thinking was spurred by a basic understanding of the written language. Although ancient hieroglyphs were arguably more intricate and complex, the use of emoji’s appear to be a representation of human communication styles coming to a full cycle.


Hernández, B. (2018, December 18). Hernán cortes: Brutal conquest of the Aztec empire. National Geographic. Retrieved October 11, 2020, from

Howard, M. C. (2014). Transnationalism in ancient and medieval societies: The role of cross-border trade and travel. McFarland.

Merenda, P. F. (1987). Toward a four-factor theory of temperament and/or personality. Journal of Personality Assessment51(3), 367-374.

Stokstad, M., & Cothren, M. W. (2016). Art: A brief history. Pearson.

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