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Transcript of CH2. ICONOLOGY
CH1. What is visual culture?
CH2. ICONOLOGY Iris Hsin-chun TuanAssociate ProfessorDepartment of Humanities and Social SciencesNCTU
INTRODUCTIONThis chapter introduces us to an approach to the analysis of visual culture that concerns itself with the subject-matter or content of visual texts.Follow the system devised by the famous iconologist Erwin Panofsky. Along the way, we will look at examples ranging from Northern Renaissance paintings to a Beatles CD cover.When we look at a painting, the first and certainly the easiest thing we look at is usually its content. It is a very good place to start, and we must never be afraid to begin (as Dylan Thomas Put it in Under Milk Wood ) at the beginning.
Dylan ThomasVideo link Under Milk Wood with simple paintings such as John Constables famous The Haywain of 1821, we can figure out very quickly what it is supposed to be.Looking at paintings such as this, then, need not require an art historical education.
John Constables famous The Haywain
John ConstableAll it does require is common sense, and a keen eye for observational derail. It is simple detective work based on readily apparent evidence.Imagine, then, that we are confronted with a mystery painting about which we know nothing. We need to get to work purely visually on the evidence presented by the mystery text itself. A portrait, on the other hand, is a picture of a person. They may be shown full-length, half-length, head-and-shoulders or just the face. The still life is another easily recognized genre. The things depicted need not be remarkable in their own right, as still lives are often distinctly everyday in their subject-matter.It is worth also mentioning the so-called genre painting. A genre painting is a scene from everyday life.
the similarity of terms is not the only problem in describing types or genres of painting. Categorizing a painting is not an exact science, nor is it a simple one.Broad classification into immediately recognizable genres is, however, a very useful place to start when beginning to describe a painting. In detail, from their dress, what can we surmise about their lifestyle, their job, their social class? Again, just as we would with a stranger on a train look at every clue to see what it may visually reveal to us.
The location of a scene depicted in a visual text can provide a third area for analysis. For example, we can use the geographical clues to help us place it with some degree of accuracy.As we begin to assemble more knowledge and information, we should be able to start an approximation of the age, period or even year that a painting depicts.The absence as well as the inclusion of seemingly tings such as these in a painting can both provide valuable evidence. Looking at a painting is, in many ways, just like looking through a window. The visual world is there to be read.A painting may even depict a particular moment. It could be a dramatic moment such as when a group Spanish soldiers face a Napoleonic firing squad, or it could be as gentle as a passing squall at sea.Unfortunately, not all paintings are as easy to read as Constables The Haywain. Fortunately, however, this can make many visual texts much more interesting. the sense that some aspects of Western philosophy and science have come to adopt a pictorial, rather than textual, view of the world.The methodology we have just used is ideal for use on what-you-see-is-what-you-get paintings, and especially those where we suspect that all we need to know is contained within the painting itself. 10If historical or celebrity portraits begin to cause us trouble, the what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach proves yet more problematic with and mythical and religious scenes.A young, medieval man pulling a sword from a stone (a strange activity) can turn out to be the mythical King Arthur of the round table.
King Arthur of the round table
King Arthur and the Sword in the StoneThe story of Adam and Eve from the book of Genesis.The New Testament provides the life and death of Jesus Christ, together with his family and followers. The nativity (the scene surrounding Christs birth in a stable)
The story of Adam and Eve
NativityThe crucifixion (in which Christ is nailed to a cross)The deposition (in which the body is removed)The pieta (in which his mother mourns over the corpse in her lap).
depositionA knowledge of Christian scripture and tradition helps us identify these scenes from their familiar ingredients and characters.They are very much bound up in convention, as the physical appearance of the places and the people portrayed usually owes much more to art history than to scripture. Mary, the Mother of Christ, for example, is frequently dressed in blue in religious paintings.
Mary, the Mother of ChristThe most expensive paint was typically reserved for this key figure. Lapis lazuli, a blue gemstone.The physical appearance of Christ. He is never described in the Bible, and so his typical depiction as tall and bearded with long, golden-brown hair is another art historical tradition.
ChristSaint George, the (non-biblical) patron saint of England, for example, is instantly recognizable not by his facial features, but by the way he is nearly always shown killing a dragon. Without the dragon, its probably not Saint George.
Saint GeorgeSimilarly, we recognize Saint Christopher from his traveller's staff and the infant Christ he carries across the river. Saint Peter carries keys, Saint Francis is surrounded by animals, and Saint Jerome is usually accompanied by a cardinals hat and a friendly lion, from whose wounded paw he removed a painful thorn. Without the hat and the lion.. . it probably isn't Saint Jerome.
Saint ChristopherSaint Jerome
Consult emblem books such as Giardas Icones Symbolicae of 1628. Historia, for example, is depicted as a female figure with three faces so she can look at the past, present and future at the same time.In the eighteenth century, Richardsons Iconology or a Collection of Emblematical Figures of 1799Sterility
As the concepts start to become more abstract, it is time for another case study.Jan van Eycks Arnolfini Wedding Portrait of 1434
Arnolfini Wedding PortraitAt face value, we can see that husband and wife are a prosperous couple; they are expensively and fashionably dressed, and their room is furnished luxuriously the standards of the day.Many of what may appear to be ordinary household objects also have an emblematic significance. This is achieved through a technique known as disguised symbolism in which everyday things can have a double life by having both a realistic and symbolic existence.
We have noticed that, in practice, interpreting disguised symbolism is not quite as simple as looking things up in a code book. Direct translation is not always possible. There are various theories about the Arnolfini portrait both in general and in detail, and Signora Arnolfinis stomach is just one of the areas of dispute.
The Annunciation from the Merode Altarpiece painted by the Master of Flmalle.It takes a working knowledge of the Christian New Testament, however, to delve beyond the appearances of this work.
The AnnunciationThe concept of a virgin birth is not an easy one, and is certainly neither communicated nor explained by the surface content of the painting.This painting is a complicated and challenging text, built up of layers of meaning.There is yet another level of meaning which is shared by both this Annunciation and The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait.Both are full of deliberate symbols, and we suspect that there would have been little point in putting them in if viewers had not been expected to have understood them.iconology Is a structured way of looking at paintings which will not only help us to understand them at all the different levelsOccasionally referred to as iconographyIt is a method that helps us to study the subject-matter of works of art at each of the levels we have just been discussing.In 1939, he published Studies in Iconology, a book that has remained influential ever since.Not only does he demonstrate iconology at work with plentiful examples and case studies from the Renaissance, he presents us with a structured, progressive and logical system for iconological analysis that we can use for ourselves and on images of our own choice.Erwin Panofsky
The first level he calls the primary or natural level, and it is in turn subdivided into the factual and the expressional sections.To understand the meaning at this primary level, we do not need any inside cultural, conventional or art historical knowledge. We need only to bring our practical experience of daily life into play.Art, three levels or strata of meaningThe secondary or conventional level is where the real work of iconology begins.we have to know the conventions in use in order to understand a painting at this second, deeper level of meaning.We have progressed from the mere identification of level one to the interpretation of images in level two.The third (and deepest) level is where we find what Panofsky calls the intrinsic meaning or content.This is the Level of meaning which reveals the basic attitude of a nation, a period, a class, a religious or philosophical - unconsciously qualified by one personality and condensed into one work.It is important to stress one and two, this is an unconscious process.Panofskys iconological method has helped us find a structured way of penetrating three layers of meanings in a visual text.Many people already have a copy of this; the image is also widely available on the Internet. Certainly, the cover is among the most memorable, and the site of the original shoot has become a tourist attraction for people from all over the world.The Beatles Abbey Road album