background image
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This difference is immediately apparent in the two lists given below. In a systematic classifica-
tion like Iconclass, every entry is a link in a hierarchical chain of concepts showing the chains for
"crane as a bird" and "crane as building equipment." Because no term exists outside such a con-
ceptual chain, a systematic classification by definition only contains terms that are semantically
unambiguous.
Every notation in the classification hierarchy printed in bold is the unique placeholder for, and
at the same time a concise expression of, the concept to which it is linked.Therefore, the notation
is all that is necessary to copy to the data file in order to connect the concept and the picture.
To help its users find the most suitable concept(s) to assign to a picture, a classification system
comes with an entry vocabulary. On the left you can see (in green) the keywords in the Iconclass
entry vocabulary that lead to a specific concept in the chain.The hierarchical subdivision of the
concepts speaks for itself.The number of hits from a database will decrease or increase with the
scope of the concept chosen for retrieval.The shorter the notation, the more general the concept
and thus the larger the number of hits from the database.
Composite descriptors
Much more could be said about the inner workings of classification systems, but that would
lead us too far away from our next subject, i.e., composite descriptors.To see what I mean by that,
please have a look at the question accompanying the picture of Atalante and Melanon (ill. 16).
This question, brought forward at the working conference, actually addresses the issue of the bib-
lical and classical stories, themes, and motifs that are stock features of the European visual and lit-
erary arts.The story of Atalante simply is just one of a myriad of stories that have re-appeared
time and time again in European culture.
In all, Iconclass contains some 10,000 definitions, or ready-made descriptions, of this kind of
subject matter. See the stock definition of the key moment from the tale of Atalante and Hip-
pomenes that best suits this pictura (ill. 16). Because it includes many elaborate entries of this kind
in its schedules, Iconclass offers the indexer a quick solution for the description of subject mat-
ter that normally is cumbersome to describe. It may be superfluous to emphasize that such stock
definitions should not be seen as descriptions that are tailored to each and every individual rep-
resentation of the story. Distinctive features, of course, may be indexed with additional terms (see,
for example, ill. 17, with Iconclass indexing).
2
Nature
nature
25
earth, world as celestial body
earth, world
25F
animals
animal
25F3
birds
bird
25F37
shore-birds and wading-birds
shore-bird, wading-bird
25F37(CRANE)
shore-birds and wading-
birds (with NAME)
crane
4
Society, Civilization, Culture
47
crafts and industries
47G
building activities
47G6
tools and machines ~ building
47G6(CRANE)
tools and machines ~
building (with NAME)
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