The question asked at the working conference takes for granted that the indexer recognizes
the bird in the picture as a crane and its posture as holding a rock. It is the epigram of the emblem
that gives this away, i.e., to everyone who knows that Palamedis avis (the bird of Palamedes) is
indeed a crane. It thereby avoids the issue addressed here, which is what happens if we do not
know that the bird is indeed a crane or if we want to be able, later on, to retrieve this picture
along with pictures of other birds. If the indexer does not recognize the bird - either because he
has limited ornithological expertise or because the draughtsman was not very precise - he will
need to use a more general term than "crane," e.g.,"wading bird" or simply "bird." Obviously, if
the indexer encounters birds he does recognize in the course of a digitization project, he will use
their proper names.
Having accepted the postulate that series of emblems (and series of emblem books) should be
indexed with a certain measure of consistency, we inevitably run into trouble when we have to
mix proper names of birds with general descriptors like "wading bird" or "bird." Imagine having
to query a database for pictures of a cormorant, a bittern, a crane, a gull, a heron, an ibis, a lap-
wing, a snipe, and a stork, without knowing whether these wading birds are actually represented,
but also while having to take into account that they may be hidden under more general terms
like "shore and wading birds" or even "birds." If this were the case, would it not be practical if you
could start by querying the system for one of these specific names, and then broaden the scope
of your query by simply asking for all pictures of shore and wading birds or even of all birds?
If you click on one of the highlighted names of birds you will see that this is exactly what the
hierarchical structure of Iconclass is about. By using one of those specific names embedded in an
Iconclass notation, you filter the database for that particular animal. By simply ascending the hier-
archical tree, you automatically broaden the scope of you query.
A m b i g u o u s a n d c o m p o s i t e d e s c r i p t o r s ,
t h e i n d e x e r a n d t h e e n d u s e r
The meaning of "crane"
It may seem a little trivial, but it should be kept in mind that the English word "crane" not
only can indicate the bird discussed above, but can also mean a piece of equipment to hoist build-
ing materials.We can even find an emblem with this other crane in its pictura. In Boria's emblem
(ill. 15), this type of crane is used to illustrate the same concept of Ingenuity over force which
was also the theme of the printer's device of Reinerius Velpius. In our present context, i.e., of
emblems and devices, asking for "crane," the bird, will not produce a significant number of false
hits. Still, the confrontation of the bird with the construction equipment alerts us to the differ-
ence between assigning words and assigning concepts to a picture.
Illustration 15: Joannes de Boria, Moralische Sinn-Bilder,
Berlin: Johann Michael Rüdiger and Ulrich Liebpert,
1698, Emblem LI:"Verstand geht über die Kräfte"
(Ingenium vires superat). A crane carrying a weight.
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