FAH102 Week 5.docx

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15 Apr 2012
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Week 5 Iconography and Primary Sources
Vernon Hyde Minor Chapter 15
o Ut Pictura Poesis
The connection between word and image is therefore deeply embedded within
Western cultural traditions and forms the basis of many traditional
interpretations of works of art
The distinction between modes of rhetoric a baroque ceiling painting is meant
for a large audience placed at considerable distance, whereas a flower painting
expects a viewer to study it in detail was widely understood in the early
modern era
Aristotle has also said that a poem and a painting have other fundamental
similarities
Both imitate nature, both do so through plot or design, both employ
narrative devices, and both tell many of the same stories
Both art and poetry are more truthful than history, which merely
chronicles events that in and of themselves contain no great meaning
The greek word mimesis “imitation” adopted more of a representing definition,
rather copying
The artist discovered the ideal by traveling one of at least three routes: by
choosing the most beautiful instances in nature (as in combining a half-dozen or
so beautiful faces to create a composite more beautiful than any single
example), by imitating the great masters (exemplaria graeca), or by discovering
the idea of beauty within his or her own mind, which reflects the mind of God
(disegno interno)
Words and images, by their very nature seek the ideal
The painter/poet should care more about human action and the human
ideal, which has to do with ethical and spiritual meaning, than with
beautiful sunsets or perfect trees
It was the human story created by human action (brought about or
motivated by human character or will of God) that Italian theory
considered important
Da Vinci wrote that paintings can produce harmonies that are never found in
language, how it appeals to the eye which is far nobler than the ear and how
it is experienced all at once and therefore is more compact and sensible than
poetry, which takes a long time to heart and is not always easy to understand
A painting has a more immediate psychological effect on the viewer
than does the poem
Poetry and literature in general rely on human-made conventions
whereas painting goes directly to the images of nature and bodies them
forth for the delectation of the viewer
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Roger de Piles advanced the proposition that painting is more like a universal
language than is poetry because its images are natural, easily recognizable by
anyone in the world
Words are artificial and conventional
Wants painting to convey emotion not just from the expression of the
passions but from the composition as a whole
Colour is exclusive to painting, while design can be found in many things
Painting’s sign – its colours and its arrangement working to create a
mood and strike the viewer forcefully are what one should
concentrate upon
Dus Bos points out that paintings have such a natural appeal that one doesn’t
really need to know anything about their content
Their style is in and of itself pleasurable
o Iconology and Iconography: Erwin Panofsky and Art Historical Methodology
Erwin Panofsky was the first professor, or Privatdozent, of art history at the
newly founded University of Hamburg in the 1920s and was also part of an
illustrious group of intellectuals
Studies in Iconology has both inspired and vexed generations of art historians
Primary or natural subject matter, subdivided into factual and
expressional initial scene of a man walking towards us and lifting his
hat, we can back up a little and describe the event as an arrangement of
shapes and colours in motion. It allows one to reach the raw material,
the bare bones, the first steps of seeing, that occur before we try to
make sense of things
The iconographic level of interpretation is the second or conventional
layer of meaning; it is at this point that we can recognize that man with
his hat aloft as someone who is greeting us
Intrinsic meaning where one finds the underlying tendency of the
human mind, and its place in its own cultural cosmos. Here one must
ascertain those underlying principles which reveal the basic attitude of
a nation, a period, a class, a religious or philosophical persuasion
unconsciously qualified by one personality and condensed into one
work
Panofsky’s example was the Last Supper
The way the Last Supper reveals the basic attitude of a nation, a period,
etc”
States that understanding art at this deepest or intrinsic level requires
that we understand symbolic forms as elucidated in the philosophy of
Ernst Cassirer, his mentor
Cassirer had argued that concept of formation in humans is something
given, an inherent characteristic
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o A symbolic form or value is one that stands for many other
things
o For example we can deduce some things about both Leonardo
and more notably the Italian Renaissance culture by observing
certain formal characteristics of the Last Supper
Note how the figures are arranged about the table in
harmonious groupings of three; how Christ is at the
center of the perspective system; how one sees the
painting straight on, with the horizon line running at the
level of Christ’s head; how Christ’s body describes the
form of a pyramid and is therefore highly stable; how
Christ occupies the middle or second of three windows
and how the pediment above the window acts a partial
halo, this indicating Christ’s divinity
An iconological interpretation of the Last Supper will
observe the values of retilinearity, centricity, focus,
balance, harmony, numerical relationships, unity, and
geometry and extrapolate or project from these values
what Panofsky called Weltanschauung, or a broad
intellectual and artistic culture that flourished in the
major cities and the courts of Italy in the fifteenth and
sixteenth century
o The iconological level of interpretation embodies cultural values
o Semiotics
Semiotics proposes a critical approach that goes beyond, and even denies, the
notion of common sense and a natural order in art
It is counterintuitive
Offers the reader and viewer ciphers and cryptographic systems for
decoding and uncovering hidden meanings: what we think we mean is
not what we really mean
Comes out of linguistics (which deals specifically with the verbal and the
written), especially from the theories of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de
Saussure, whose Cours de linguistique generale inaugurates, constructs,
and grounds the modern notion of semiotics
o The sign is composed of two things: the signifier and the
signified
o The signifier is the spoken word or written symbol; the signified
is what the signifier means or signals
o A painting may be a real object, but we don’t necessarily look at
it that way; rather, we tend to look through its surface (of
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