French Iconophors

February 28, 2007

I find these French dictionary illustrations to be simply astounding:

Via BibliOdyssey, from this database.

Actually, we are told that the images above are not really lettrines (illuminated letters); rather they are called iconophors – something of a neologism to describe an iconic letter together with surrounding pictures that start with that letter (apple = ‘A’ etc). There is a fair bit of english available and it’s interesting to browse around – mouseover the website images to discover the name of each related picture. It’s all easy. For instance, in one of the letter ‘G’ images above, you can see Gulliver and Galileo if you look hard enough. Some are more esoteric/french/difficult than others.



  1. I’ve never heard of iconophers before. These are really neat!

  2. _Fascinating_, and quite essential to my own work, actually, though I am interested (academically) in the other side of “speaking pictures”: i.e., in how writers on letters in England “draw” discursively on the visual and the physical when they describe letters (put them into words). Interestingly, the English are more discursive in this regard, and the French and Italian more pictorial.

    (I’m talking about the 15th through 18th centuries here, when vernacular alphabets were in the process of being standardized: these images, whether linguistic or pictorial, are a vital part of that process . . .)

    As for the appearance of letters in contemporary culture, I remain amused, if not amazed, at how much the alphabet serves as a kind of organizing principle; I’m thinking most recently of Clive James’ _Cultural Amnesia_, but also found this here. . .

    Thanks so much. . .

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