Needless to say, composite descriptors are governed by the same principles of hierarchical sub-
ordination as the rest of the system.The chain of concepts that leads up to the story of the race
between Atalante and Hippomenes easily demonstrates how the hierarchical structure of the sys-
tem ensures the implicit retrieval of the specific story of Atalante when the system is queried for
a specific concept, e.g.,"heroic legend."
Indexer and end user
A fundamental problem of retrieval systems, even of those that employ a controlled vocabu-
lary, is that the end user rarely has access to the vocabulary from which cataloguers pick their
terms.The end user, therefore, seldom knows which terms the indexer used.This may lead to a
situation where retrieving information is like trying to find the light-switch in a pitch-dark room.
But even if the room is (dimly) lit, it may not be easy to fathom the consequences of this sit-
uation. In a large system with full text searching capabilities - think Internet - there is almost
always a result to a keyword query, but there is no way of telling how much the system is lying
by omission. In systems that offer alphabetically ordered flat picklists of descriptors used, it is easy
to miss synonyms, related terms, or relevant broader or narrower terms. Even systems that have
Illustration 16: Does Iconclass give us a single entry to
replace "Atalante, Melanon, woman, man, race, golden
Iconclass stock definition: 95B(ATLANTE)2111 dur-
ing the foot-race Hippomenes drops the three golden
apples; Atlante stops to pick up, and is thus beaten.
Image from: Anonymus, Triumphus Amoris. Augsburg:
Joseph Friderich Leopold, 1695, Emblem 37,"Die
Liebe ist listig", Atalante and Melanon.
Illustration 17:The Last Judgement, from a Book of
Hours, c. 1495. Koninklijke Bibliotheek (The Hague),
135 G 19, f. 81v.The longest composite descriptor we
find in Iconclass is the following stock definition:
comprehensive representation of Last Judge-
ment: Christ (with sword and lily), often surrounded
by elders and sometimes accompanied by Mary and
John the Baptist, appears in the sky with trumpeting
angels (and sometimes angels holding the instruments
of the Passion); after the resurrection of the dead the
blessed are led to heaven by angels, and the damned are
dragged into hell by devils.
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