I discovered an essay by Teresa Deitrich which I found very useful for my initial research into iconography.
Dietrich (2003:11) says that Pope Gregory gave artistic freedom to artists painting images of Christ, saying:
Painting can do for the illiterate what writing does for those who can read. (Gromlich, 1995:135)
Dietrich (2003:11) explains that in a largely illiterate society, religious imagery was seen as a powerful form of communication.
Dietrich (2003:13) explains that the Renaissance period (1450-1600) was a period of great importance for religious paintings and a period of progress within the development of literary and figurative art. Dietrich (2003:15-16) adds that prior to the Renaissance, realism was not the primary aim of painting and the painting was more of a symbolic object, not intended for a substitute for reality, but that the symbolism of its content was more important, for example:
Keys = St Peter
Chalice = St JohnThe Madonna and Child
Dietrich (2003:13) explains that painting the Madonna and Child was common practice for artists of the Rennaissance period and is one of the strongest symbols in Catholicism, capable of many levels of interpretation.
Dietrich (2003:13) states that it illustrates the bond between the mother and child, symbolises purity, security and family, issues that were very important in society at the time. It also symblises Jesus’ love for the children of God and the church’s compassion.EXAMPLES OF CHRISTIAN ICONOGRAPHY
Dietrich, Teresa (2003) An Investigation into the Use of Religious Iconography in Photography, Stockport College of Further and Higher Education, Department of Design and Visual Arts
Many Christian saints can be recognised by the symbols (or attributes) that accompany them.