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. The Iconclass system is accessible through the Iconclass Browser and available as Linked Open Data (LOD).

Iconclass Browser

The multilingual Iconclass Browser serves as a search tool that allows an indexer to find the concepts to tag an image. Needless to say, it can also be used to establish the correct meaning of a notation. The Iconclass Browser contains English, German, French and Italian keywords and descriptions. Beside that, there are partial translations in Finnish and Norwegian and experimental translations in Chinese and Dutch (not yet online).


Iconclass is a subject-specific classification system. It is a hierarchically ordered collection of definitions of objects, people, events and abstract ideas that serve as the subject of an image. Art historians, researchers and curators use it to describe, classify and examine the subject of images represented in various media such as paintings, drawings and photographs. The three main components of Iconclass are:

  • Classification System
    28,000 hierarchically ordered definitions divided into ten main divisions. Each definition consists of an alphanumeric classification code (notation) and the description of the iconographic subject (textual correlate). The definitions are used to index, catalogue and describe the subjects of images represented in works of art, reproductions, photographs and other sources.

  • Alphabetical Index
    14,000 keywords used for locating the notation and its textual correlate needed to describe and/or index an image.

  • Bibliography
    40,000 references to books and articles of iconographical interest (not yet online).

Use of Iconclass at the RKD

Of all the RKD digital collections the Images database makes the most use of Iconclass. Art works on a mythological or biblical subject are generally marked with Iconclass codes. In Explore you can find art works by searching on these Iconclass codes. The RKD also has a collection of images in the study room which are categorised by subject code. The iconographic book collection is also sorted using the Iconclass system.