There have been divisions within the Christians over the use of icons, such as the Iconoclasts vs. the Iconodules (787 a.d.). The iconodules won their argument, over time, that icons were an integral part of the Christian tradition. Adoration of icons was not taken literally as love for the icons themselves but the meaning of them. It is said that St. Luke, the Evangelist, was the first iconographer when he painted an image of the virgin Mary on a panel, a woman he is thought to have actually known. The Byzantine Empire is known for its abundance of iconographs.
The symbols used in iconography must relate to that which is apparent to people of the culture or time in which they are created. For instance, the color gold, in Eastern Orthodoxy, means the radiance of Heaven, while red is the color of martyrs (wikipedia.com 2006). Dragons are a symbol for sin and temptation. The wheel that St. Catherine was tortured on is an example of overt symbolism.
In more recent times, submerged iconography was incorporated into works of art. Two examples are Jan Van Eyck's iconographic painting and Hieronymus Bosch's painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The differences in their iconography are striking.
In Van Eyck's work, The Adoration ...