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Sitting in a dentist's office waiting room today, I read a magazine article that referenced an important work that I hadn't heard of before...

In 1593, Cesare Ripa (an Italian aesthetician) published Iconologia, a model book of allegorical figures.  There are short descriptions of the symbols and figures, followed by woodcuts of the figures which illustrate concepts such as virtues and vices, arts and sciences.  Some of the baroque masters, Vermeer for instance, referenced Ripa's work.  You can read it online here: