Iconology

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Iconology is a method of interpretation in cultural history and the history of art used by Aby Warburg, Erwin Panofsky and their followers that uncovers the cultural, social, and historical background of themes and subjects in the visual arts.[1] It is derived from synthesis rather than scattered analysis and examines symbolic meaning on more than its face value by reconciling it with its historical context and with the artist's body of work[2] - in contrast to the widely descriptive iconography, i.e. an approach to studying the content and meaning of works of art that is primarily focused on classifying, establishing dates, provenance and other necessary fundamental knowledge concerning the subject matter of an artwork that is needed for further interpretation.[3]

Though Panofsky strongly differentiated between iconology and iconography, both approaches are still frequently confused, "and they have never been given definitions accepted by all iconographers and iconologists".[4] It should also be noted that Panofsky's "use of iconology as the principle tool of art analysis brought him critics." For instance, in 1946, Jan Gerrit Van Gelder "criticized Panofsky's iconology as putting too much emphasis on the symbolic content of the work of art, neglecting its formal aspects and the work as a unity of form and content."[5] Furthermore, iconology is mostly avoided by social historians who do not accept the theoretical dogmaticism in the work of Panofsky.[6]

Iconology in contrast to iconography[edit]

Erwin Panofsky defines iconography as "a description and classification of images", while iconology is "an iconography turned interpretive".[7] According to his view, iconology tries to reveal the underlying principles that form the basic attitude of a nation, a period, a class, a religious or philosophical perspective, which is modulated by one personality and condensed into one work.[8] According to Roelof van Straten, iconology "can explain why an artist or patron chose a particular subject at a specific location and time and represented it in a certain way. An iconological investigation should concentrate on the social-historical, not art-historical, influences and values that the artist might not have consciously brought into play but are nevertheless present. The artwork is primarily seen as a document of its time."[9]

Warburg used the term "iconography" in his early research, replacing it in 1908 with "iconology" in his particular method of visual interpretation called "critical iconology", which focused on the tracing of motifs through different cultures and visual forms.[10] In 1932, Panofsky published a seminal article, introducing a three-step method of visual interpretation dealing with (1) primary or natural subject matter; (2) secondary or conventional subject matter, i.e. iconography; (3) tertiary or intrinsic meaning or content, i.e. iconology.[11][12] Whereas iconography analyses the world of images, stories and allegories and requires knowledge of literary sources, an understanding of the history of types and how themes and concepts were expressed by objects and events under different historical conditions, iconology interprets intrinsic meaning or content and the world of symbolical values by using "synthetic intuition". The interpreter is aware of the essential tendencies of the human mind as conditioned by psychology and world view; he analyses the history of cultural symptoms or symbols, or how tendencies of the human mind were expressed by specific themes due to different historical conditions. Moreover, when understanding the work of art as a document of a specific civilization, or of a certain religious attitude therein, the work of art becomes a symptom of something else, which expresses itself in a variety of other symptoms. Interpreting these symbolical values, which can be unknown to, or different from, the artist's intention, is the object of iconology.[13] Panofsky emphasized that "iconology can be done when there are no originals to look at and nothing but artificial light to work in."[14]

According to Ernst Gombrich, "the emerging discipline of iconology [...] must ultimately do for the image what linguistics has done for the word."[15] However, Michael Camille is of the opinion that "though Panofsky's concept of iconology has been very influential in the humanities and is quite effective when applied to Renaissance art, it is still problematic when applied to art from periods before and after."[16]

Nuances of iconology[edit]

In 1952, Creighton Gilbert added another opinion about the meaning of the word "iconology". According to his view, iconology was not the actual investigation of the work of art but rather the result of this investigation. The Austrian art historian Hans Sedlmayr differentiated between "sachliche" and "methodische" iconology. "Sachliche" iconology refers to the "general meaning of an individual painting or of an artistic complex (church, palace, monument) as seen and explained with reference to the ideas which take shape in them." In contrast, "methodische" iconology is the "integral iconography which accounts for the changes and development in the representations".[17] In Iconology: Images, Text, Ideology (1986), W.J.T. Mitchell writes that iconology is a study of "what to say about images", concerned with the description and interpretation of visual art, and also a study of "what images say" – the ways in which they seem to speak for themselves by persuading, telling stories, or describing.[18] He pleads for a postlinguistic, postsemiotic "iconic turn", emphasizing the role of "non-linguistic symbol systems".[19][20][21] Instead of just pointing out the difference between the material (pictorial or artistic) images, "he pays attention to the dialectic relationship between material images and mental images".[22] According to Dennise Bartelo and Robert Morton, the term "iconology" can also be used for characterizing "a movement toward seeing connections across all the language processes" and the idea about "multiple levels and forms used to communicate meaning" in order to get "the total picture” of learning. "Being both literate in the traditional sense and visually literate are the true mark of a well-educated human."[23]

Studies in iconology[edit]

Studies in Iconology is the title of a book by Erwin Panofsky on humanistic themes in the art of the Renaissance, which was first published in 1939.[24] It is also the name of a peer-reviewed series of books started in 2014 and published by Peeters international academic publishers, Leuven, Belgium, which addresses an audience that seeks to understand any aspect and any deeper meaning of the visual medium along the history of mankind in the fields of philosophy, art history, theology and cultural anthropology.[25]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Roelof van Straten, An Introduction to Iconography: Symbols, Allusions and Meaning in the Visual Arts. Abingdon and New York 1994, p.12.
  2. ^ Iconography and Iconology
  3. ^ Victor Ljunggren Szepessy, "Panofsky - Iconology and Iconography". In The Marriage Maker: The Pergamon Hermaphrodite as the God Hermaphroditos, Divine Ideal and Erotic Object. MA thesis, University of Oslo 2014, p.16.
  4. ^ Oxford Bibliographies: Paul Taylor, "Iconology and Iconography"
  5. ^ Dictionary of Art Historians: Panofsky, Erwin
  6. ^ Klaus von Beyme, "Why is there no Political Science of the Arts?" In Udo J. Hebel and Christoph Wagner, eds., Pictorial Cultures and Political Iconographies: Approaches, Perspectives, Case Studies from Europe and America. Berlin and New York 2011, p.16.
  7. ^ Andrew Tudor, Image and Influence: Studies in the Sociology of Film. New York 1974, p.115.
  8. ^ Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance. Oxford 1939.
  9. ^ Roelof van Straten, An Introduction to Iconography: Symbols, Allusions and Meaning in the Visual Arts. Abingdon and New York 1994, p. 12.
  10. ^ Michael Hatt and Charlotte Klonk, "Iconography - iconology: Erwin Panofsky". In Art History: A Critical Introduction to Its Methods. Manchester University Press, 2006, p. 98.
  11. ^ Erwin Panofsky, "Zum Problem der Beschreibung und Inhaltsdeutung von Werken der bildenden Kunst." Logos, Vol. 21 (1932), pp. 103-119.
  12. ^ Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance. Oxford 1939.
  13. ^ Victor Ljunggren Szepessy, "Panofsky - Iconology and Iconography". In The Marriage Maker: The Pergamon Hermaphrodite as the God Hermaphroditos, Divine Ideal and Erotic Object. MA thesis, University of Oslo 2014, pp.13, 16.
  14. ^ Michael Ann Holly, Panofsky and the Foundations of Art History. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1984, p.14.
  15. ^ E.H. Gombrich, Reflections on the History of Art: Views and Reviews, ed. Richard Woodfield. Oxford 1987, p.246.
  16. ^ Dominique E. Garcia, "Nationalistic Iconography and 'Anti-Iconology' of the Aztec Coatlicue Sculpture"
  17. ^ Encyclopedia.com: Iconology and Iconography
  18. ^ Karen Hope, The Iconic Image: Iconology
  19. ^ W.J.T. Mitchell, Iconology: Images, Text, Ideology. University of Chicago Press, 1986.
  20. ^ w.j.t. mitchell and the image (review)
  21. ^ W.J.T. Mitchell, "Iconology and Ideology: Panofsky, Althusser, and the Scene of Recognition". In David B. Downing and Susan Bazargan, eds., Image and Ideology in Modern/Postmodern Discourse. New York 1991, pp.321-329.
  22. ^ W. J. T. Mitchell's Iconology and Picture Theory
  23. ^ Dennise Bartelo and Robert Morton, "Iconology: An Alternate Form of Writing"
  24. ^ Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance. Oxford 1939.
  25. ^ Peeters Publishers: Studies in Iconology

Further reading[edit]

  • Ernst Gombrich, "Aims and Limits of Iconology." In Symbolic Images (Studies in the Art of the Renaissance, 2). London: Phaidon, 1972, pp. 1–25.
  • Keith Moxey, "Panofsky's Concept of Iconology and the Problem of Interpretation in the History of Art." New Literary History, Vol. 17, No. 2: Interpretation and Culture (Winter 1986), pp. 265-274.
  • Timothy Erwin, "Modern Iconology, Postmodern Iconologies". In David B. Downing and Susan Bazargan, eds., Image and Ideology in Modern/Postmodern Discourse. New York 1991, pp. 309–320.
  • Michael Hatt and Charlotte Klonk, "Iconography - iconology: Erwin Panofsky". In Art History: A Critical Introduction to Its Methods. Manchester University Press, 2006, pp. 96–119.
  • Paul Taylor, "Introduction." In Iconography without Texts. London: Warburg Institute, 2008, pp. 1–10.

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