What Is an Icon in Art History?

Art|Art History

An icon in art history is a work of art that has been treasured and revered for centuries. It is an image or object that has come to represent a particular culture, era, or artist.

Icons may be paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, photographs, or even artifacts. They are often used as symbols to represent a shared cultural heritage.

The term “icon” is derived from the Greek word eikon, which translates to “image”. Art historians have long studied icons and their importance within different cultures and eras. Icons can be found in almost every culture and era of art history.

In Western art history, icons are usually associated with religious themes and figures from the Bible or other religious texts. One example is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa which is widely regarded as one of the most famous paintings in the world. This painting has become an icon for Renaissance art and an enduring symbol of beauty and mystery.

In Eastern art history, icons are often associated with Buddhist or Hindu religious figures such as Buddha or Shiva. For example, one of the most iconic images in Eastern art history is Akshobhya Buddha from Mongolia which dates back to the 8th century CE. This statue is a representation of transcendence and enlightenment and has been venerated in both Buddhism and Hinduism for centuries.

Icons can also be associated with political movements or ideologies such as socialism or communism which have had a major influence on modern art history. The works of artists such as Pablo Picasso or Frida Kahlo have become iconic symbols for these ideologies and movements throughout the world.

In today’s society, icons are more than just works of art; they are symbols that carry meaning beyond the physical artwork itself. They are objects that have come to represent certain ideas, values, beliefs, cultures, and eras that have shaped our world today.


An icon in art history is a work of art that has been treasured and revered for centuries because it represents a particular culture, era, or artist through its imagery or objects.

Icons can come from any culture but are often associated with religion or political movements depending on their context within art history. Today they remain important symbols carrying meaning beyond just their physical form.