The etymology of the composite word is Greek εἰκών ([e]ikon) which means image” and γράφειν graph[ein] to write. Iconography is popularly used in three distinctly different contexts:

First and foremost it is an important part of art history. It studies the identification and description and visual cognition of images and their constituent elements.

In the context of Orthodox christianity, i.e. in Byzantine, Greek, Ukrainian, Russian and Bulgarian churches, iconography has another and broader meaning. Here it is not only the entire visual vocabulary of the many icons but also the production of icons. The tight and formal language is restricted by some conventions from before, during and after the iconoclasm.

Finally, the academic fields semiotics and media studies use it as a useful umbrella term. Here it is the act of theorising the content of images, their symbolism and inherent meaning structures – as negotiated with the public at large and our individual and collective conscience.