How to Cite Images in MLA Style

MLA style, used most often by those penning research papers in the humanities fields, provides citation rules for myriad source materials. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition) provides one set of citation rules for paintings, photographs and sculptures, while establishing slightly different criteria for reproductions, as well as for digital files and those accessed via the Internet.

Paintings or Photos

Begin your citation by listing the artist's name (last name, followed by a comma and the first name) and follow that with a period. Then list the title of the work in italics and place another period after it. Next, list the date of composition, followed by a period. Finally -- and if applicable -- write the name of the institution where the work is displayed and follow it with a comma, the name of the city where it is located and a concluding period.

A reference for a painting might read:

White, Mike. A Power Struggle (italicized). 1983. Midwestern Museum of Art, Chicago.

Photographic Reproductions

If you are citing an image of a piece of artwork -- a textbook reproduction of a famous painting, for instance -- you must add additional bibliographic information. At the end of the citation for the original image, include the italicized title of the book in which you found the reproduction and follow that with a period. Then list the author's name and another period. Next, list the city where the book was published, a colon and the name of the publisher, followed by a period and the number of the page on which the image is found, followed by another period. Finally, list the medium of publication -- print, in the case of a book -- and a final period.

A reference for a reproduction of a painting might read:

White, Mike. A Power Struggle (italicized). 1983. Midwestern Museum of Art, Chicago. Art Across Time (italicized). By Darren Thomas. Dallas: Texas Book Publishing Co. 200. Print.

Digital Images

When referencing a digital image, the main contents and style of your citation should be identical to the typical image citation -- include the name of the artist and the image, as well as the date of composition. You should then conclude your citation by listing the medium -- for instance, JPEG or PDF file -- in which the file exists.

A reference for a digital image of a painting might read:

White, Mike. A Power Struggle (italicized). 1983. JPEG.

Images Accessed Online

Often, you will need to cite a digital image that you accessed online, whether on a photographer's website or a museum's. In this case, simply add a bit of information to your typical image citation. Follow the main citation with the italicized name of the website and a period. Then write the word "Web" and follow it with a period to indicate that you accessed the image via the Internet. Finally, list the date you accessed the site, in the format of date month year. When citing websites, MLA doesn't require you to list the site's URL.

A reference for an image of a painting accessed online might read:

White, Mike. A Power Struggle (italicized). 1983. Midwestern Museum of Art, Chicago. FamousPaintings. Web. 17 April 2008.

Parenthetical Citations

You should use parenthetical citations throughout the body of your MLA paper to direct readers to the longer, more in-depth references found on your Works Cited page. The citations should be enclosed in parentheses at the conclusion of the sentence in which the image in question is discussed. Place citations before the sentence's closing period. For images, your parenthetical citation should be the name of the work's artist.

About the Author

First published in 2005, Kyle Whitney has covered news and sports in the Midwest, Washington, D.C., and Beijing. His articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines in Michigan and China. Whitney is currently a local government reporter at a daily paper.

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