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Research Guides

Medieval Iconography: Death, Sickness, Crime

Course guide for reading imagery related to death, sickness and crime.

Image Classifications, Tools, Resources

Iconclass.Iconclass is a classification system designed for art and iconography. It is the most widely accepted scientific tool for the description and retrieval of subjects represented in images (works of art, book illustrations, reproductions, photographs, etc.) and is used by museums and art institutions around the world.

Getty Resarch Institute, Resources for Cataloguing, Image Metadata

Sample Terminology to Use for Image Searches

When searching in digital manuscript collections, you need information about the manuscript, call number, title, author, in order to locate it.

When searching in IMAGE DATABASES for images depicting crime, sickness and death in the Middle Ages the following terms may be helpful:

CRIME (Moral, Legal and Religious)

  • vices and virtues, theft, murder/muderer, adultery/adulter/adultress, sin, killing, luxuria, sexual vices, promiscuity, drunkenness, cheating, punishments, theft, thieves, trials (ecclesiastic and biblical courts, trial by ordeal, hot coal or bitter waters, etc.), heathens / pagans, idolatry, rape, suicide (Judas), betrayal, penance, pilgrimages, poison/poisoner,
  • figures: Judas, Massacre of Innocents, suicide of Judas
  • Crimes in Decretum Gratiani, or Concordia Discordantium Canonum, psalter,


  • leprosy, lepers, plague, Black Lady, madness, demons, healers (Jesus Christ). last sacraments,
  • healers (Jesus Christ), patron saints (St. Elizabeth, St. Peregrinus, etc.), 
  • figures: Job, Lazarus, Naamun, Baldwin IV, Emperor Constantine, etc.
  • Later medieval period: check medical manuscripts (Wellcome Institute is a good start)


  • Subjects: death, battles, martyrdom (various saints), name of individuals, funerary/funerals, murder, relic, deathbed
  • Religious events/concepts: Slaughter/Massacre of the Innocents, the Last Judgement, Purgatory, Bosum of Abraham / sinu Abrahae, Hell, Crucifixion of Christ, delivering the last sacraments or rites, funeral ritual,
  • Object Types: sarcophagus, tomb, grave slab, reliquary, relic, psalters, bibles, chronicles,
  • Symbols and Allegory: portraits of dead, souls of deceased, Black Lady, Danse Macabre/ Dance of Death