British book illustrations

British Book Illustrations (BBI) is a project of the Folger Shakespeare Library, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), to digitize and index 10,000 woodcut and engraved illustrations in British and English-language books. Using the extensive Folger holdings in the Short-Title Catalogue (STC) period, BBI began by systematically digitizing and indexing ca. 6,700 illustrations for the years 1604 – 1640, thereby extending previous systematic print reference guides that cover illustrations only through the end of the Tudor era in 1603. The explosion of illustration from the mid-17th century onward made comprehensive digitizing and indexing beyond the STC period impractical within the time-frame of this project. Instead, BBI focused on books renowned for their illustrations, digitizing and indexing an estimated 3,300 illustrations contained in the Folger collection of British imprints, 1641 – 1700.


Henri van de Waal began development of Iconclass in the early 1950s while Professor of Art History at the University of Leiden, as a method of classifying subjects, themes, and motifs in Western art. Since 2006, it has been managed by the Netherlands Institute for Art History.

Today, Iconclass is the internationally-accepted standard for the description and retrieval of subjects represented in images, and is used by libraries, museums, and art galleries all over the world to describe images in their collections. Visit the Iconclass website to explore the system, or learn more about its features below:


Iconclass is broken up into ten major subject areas: Abstract, Non-representational Art; Religion and Magic; Nature; Human Being, Man in General; Society, Civilization, Culture; Abstract Ideas and Concepts; History; Bible; Literature; and Classical Mythology and Ancient History.


The ten major subject areas of Iconclass are further broken down into a series of increasingly specific levels of keywords. The Iconclass browser allows the user to travel through the levels of the hierarchy, as well as to search for these more specific keywords within it.


Iconclass is available to be fully searched and browsed in English, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese. Additionally, the vocabulary has been partially translated into in Finnish and Norwegian and experimentally translated into Chinese and Dutch (not yet online).


Each iconclass heading is preceded by an alphanumeric identifier. Each character within this identifier refers to a different level of the Iconclass hierarchy--bread, for instance, has the identifier 41C621, which is broken down as follows:

4 Society, civilization, culture
41 material aspects of daily life
41C nutrition, bourishment
41C6 foodstuffs; still life of foodstuffs
41C62 bread, cake, pastry, etc.
41C621 bread, loaf

Searching and browsing BBI

Using the Iconclass browser

The Iconclass browser is available on the BBI website. The major subject areas are listed; click on any of them to narrow down the search results, and to see a narrower set of categories. "3 Human being, man in general," for instance, is further broken down into categories including "31 man in a general biological sense," "33 relations between individual persons," and "34 man and animal"; these categories are themselves further subdivided, and so on.

The search bar in the top right can be used to find relevant subject headings. A keyword search for "dogs," for example, returns headings including "34A3 training of dogs," within the broader category "34 man and animal," and "43C1147 hunting dogs," within the broader category "43C11 hunting, chase."

Searching in Luna

These iconclass headings have been copied into Luna in order to facilitate better keyword searching. To search the headings, select the British Book Illustrations collection from the Luna home page. Limit your keyword search to the Iconclass field by preceding your search term with "iconclass_headings=":


Citing images from BBI

We ask that digital images from the Folger’s collection be identified in the following manner:

Call number, signature/folio/page/etc. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

However, if you are able, we prefer the expanded citation provided below as a caption since it provides more information and makes tracing the image back to its original source much easier for future scholars:

Author. Title (Place of publication, publication date), signature/folio/page (if applicable). Folger Shakespeare Library call number. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Example: Munday, Anthony (1553-1633). Londons loue, to the Royal Prince Henrie, meeting him on the riuer of Thames, at his returne from Richmonde, with a worthie fleete of her cittizens, on Thursday the last of May, 1610. (London : Printed by Edw. Allde, for Nathaniell Fosbrooke, and are to be solde at the west-end of Paules, neere to the Bishop of Londons gate, 1610.), leaf A1 verso. Folger Shakespeare Library STC 13159. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Please see our website for more information on our permissions policies.

Other resources


Color our Collections is a week-long social media event during which libraries, museums, and archives from around the world share images from their collections and encourage you to color them in and make them your own. We’ve pulled all kinds of images from our collection here at the Folger, including some from BBI. Want to color them all? View and download all of the Folger’s coloring pages. Don’t forget to share your work with us on social media!

Arkyves Viewer

Users on-site at the Folger have access to the full Iconclass browser at Arkyves, containing all of the images from BBI, as well as over 800,000 additional images from a number of institutions all over the world.