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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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1. The origins of “interpretative iconography” may
be seen in the descriptions (ekphrasis) of works of art
known in classical literature. But these descriptions,
like those by Philostratus the Elder or Lucian, are
limited simply to description and lack in general any
interpretation. Moreover, it is not certain whether they
are descriptions of actual or fictitious works of art; at
least opinions in this respect vary. Brief medieval tituli,
which formulated in words the content of religious
images were, to be sure, interpretative sometimes, but
they were short and cannot be connected with the
tradition of artistic erudition. We have to look to
modern times to indicate the beginnings of iconogra-
phic interpretation and research. From Vasari's Rag-
in which interpretations of the paintings
decorating the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence are given,
we learn how complicated and how undecipherable
iconographic concepts might have been, even to peo-
ple living in buildings decorated by paintings expres-
sing these concepts. But perhaps the first really to be
considered as interested in iconographic research was
the seventeenth-century archaeologist and art theorist
Giovanni Pietro Bellori. In the introduction to his Lives
of Artists
(1672) Bellori stressed that he paid special
attention to the content of the works of art he was
talking about, and he even credited the painter Nicolas
Poussin with having directed his attention to iconogra-
phy. In his Lives Bellori presented short interpretative
descriptions of pictures, and he sometimes developed
these interpretations further in small iconographic
essays; the influence of classical ekphrasis on him is
a possibility. Sometimes his errors took deep roots in
the subsequent history of art, as when he explained
Poussin's Triumph of Flora (Dresden) by designating
Ovid's Metamorphoses as its source. The true source,
Marino's Adona, was finally found by R. E. Spear in

What is interesting in Bellori's procedure is that he
first identifies the motifs, tries to connect them with
classical or modern literary sources, and then proceeds
to find out the deep meaning, the general symbolic
idea of the work. Therefore he may be considered as
one of the pioneers not only of iconography as a disci-
pline of research, but also of iconology, as formulated
by its recent partisans. That even in the second half
of the sixteenth century some observers were inclined
to look for hidden meaning in each element of the work
of art, we learn from Joannes Molanus (1570), who in
De picturis et imaginibus sacris states reasonably that
“it is not necessary to ask for meaning of everything
that can be observed in a picture: in such cases a lot
of absurd things may result.” But the consciousness of
the importance of iconography increased and at the
end of the seventeenth century André Félibien stressed
that in order to attribute a picture to a painter it is
not enough to know the way he uses his brush; one
needs also to know his esprit, to learn his génie, and
to be able to foresee in which way he is able to form
his conceptions. Thus iconographic analysis was con-
sidered necessary even for the purpose of attribution.

Descriptive interpretations of the works of ancient
art appeared in the big archaeological publications of
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as
Jacques Spon's Miscellanea eruditae antiquitatis (1679),
G. P. Bellori's Admiranda romanarum antiquitatum ac
veteris sculpturae vestigia
(1693), P. de Caylus' Recueil


d'antiquités égyptiennes, étrusques, grecques et
(1752-67), and in an interesting endeavor
(although very much criticized by Lessing) of Joseph
Spence to explain classical poets through works of art
and vice versa (Polymetis, 1747). Classical archaeology,
however, has not been especially interested in iconog-
raphy, and the use of the term itself by archaeolo-
gists was limited to portraiture. The first great devel-
opment of iconographic studies was connected with
the romantic movement, although an important pre-
lude for it was hagiographical collections of sources
such as Acta sanctorum published by the Bollandists
(1643-1794, resumed later). Among the pre-romantic
scholars in iconography the eminent German poet
G. E. Lessing is to be noted. His study of the repre-
sentation of death in classical times can be considered
as one of the first essays in interpretative iconography,
which is now called iconology. In Wie die Alten den
Tod gebildet
(1769) Lessing tries to interpret the classi-
cal iconographic type of Amor with the inverted torch
and to find its “intrinsic meaning” by taking into ac-
count the religion, customs, and philosophy of the
classical world. The work of art is interpreted by Less-
ing as “a symptom of something else.” While Lessing's
predecessors (like B. de Montfaucon) “explained the
classical past by monuments” he, for the first time, did
the opposite: “he explained the monuments by Antiq-
uity” (Maurin Białostocka [1969], pp. 92-100).

Pre-romantic and romantic interests in myth and
symbol found their expression in publications and dis-
cussions by German philosophers and scholars like F.
Schlegel, J. Herder, J. J. von Görres, and F. Creuzer.
Creuzer's work, Symbolik und Mythologie der alten
(1810), which shows the influence of mystical
Neo-Platonic ideas on symbols (Gombrich, 1965), was
the most influential in the romantic period in Ger-
many. Under the impact of Chateaubriand's le Génie
du christianisme
(1802), research in medieval iconog-
raphy developed mainly in France. Works by French
scholars, mostly clergymen, which were indeed con-
cerned with Christian medieval art, dominated icon-
ographical study in the nineteenth century. Since most
of these writers were not professional scholars, their
work was often amateurish in character, but it is unde-
niable that books by A. N. Didron, Histoire de Dieu
(Paris, 1843), the first part of a comprehensive, pro-
jected, but not completed iconography of Christian art;
A. Crosnier, Iconographie chrétienne (Caen, 1848); C.
Cahier, Caractéristiques des saints (Paris, 1867); C.
Rohault de Fleury, Archéologie chrétienne: les saints
de la messe et leurs monuments,
12 vols. (Paris,
1893-1900); L. Bréhier, L'art chrétien: son développe-
ment iconographique des origines à nos jours
1918); P. Perdrizet, V. Leroquais, and G. de Jerphanion
have built up a solid body of iconographical knowl-
edge, on which scholars of the twentieth century were
able to erect a modern, comprehensive structure. In
the field of Byzantine iconography, it was Gabriel
Millet's Recherches sur l'iconographie de l'évangile aux
XIVe, XVe, et XVIe siècles
... (Paris, 1916; reprint
1960) that was basic for any further study. For Western,
chiefly French art, a well-written and learned work,
appealing to the general reader as well as to the
scholar, was produced by Émile Mâle, who in his four
volumes of the history of religious art (1898-1932) has
presented a well-composed, synthetic image of icono-
graphical development. A lexicographic summary of
these studies of generations of French scholars is pre-
sented in the Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et
de liturgie,
published from 1907 to 1953, and edited
by F. Cabrol and H. Leclerq. A recent reference work
is that by L. Réau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien (Paris,
1955-59). Russian scholars have done important work
in the field of Byzantine and Orthodox iconography
of religious art. The most prominent are: N. P. Kon-
dakov, Ikonografia Bogomatieri (St. Petersburg, 1911;
2nd ed. 1914-15); D. V. Ainalov, Mosaiki IV i V vekov
(St. Petersburg, 1895); and N. Pokrovski, Otcherki
pamyatnikov christianskogo isskusstva i ikonografii
Petersburg, 1894; 3rd ed. 1910). V. Lasarev and M.
Alpatov, belonging to the mid-twentieth-century gen-
eration of Russian scholars, discuss iconography in
several works on religious art. German scholarship
produced, in the nineteenth century, works by F. Piper,
A. Springer, and H. Detzel. Useful compendia were
produced in the early twentieth century by J. Sauer,
W. Molsdorf, K. Künstle, and J. Braun. Dutch scholars
C. Smits, J. B. Knipping, and J. J. M. Timmers contrib-
uted to iconographic studies in recent times; Knip-
ping's book (1939-40) being the most important work
on the iconography of the Counter-Reformation and
supplementing Mâle's volume of 1932. In the twentieth
century, on C. R. Morey's initiative, iconographic
studies were inaugurated in North America. Focused
on earlier medieval art, these studies developed at
Princeton University.

A new direction, characteristic of iconographic
studies in the twentieth century, has been given to
them by the international school of art historical re-
search inaugurated by the Hamburg scholar Aby
Warburg. At the International Congress for the History
of Art at Rome in 1912 he presented a sensational
astrological interpretation of the frescoes painted by
Francesco Cossa and his collaborators in Palazzo
Schifanoja at Ferrara. Warburg solved the secret of
those representations which had puzzled the ingenuity
of several former students, interpreting them as images
of zodiacal signs and their decans. But he did not limit


his contribution to the presentation of his results. He
wanted to stress the importance of his approach and
of the method of study, which later became connected
with his name. He said:

I hope that through the method used by me for explication
of the frescoes at the Palazzo Schifanoja of Ferrara, I have
proved, that an iconological analysis, which does not allow
itself to be diverted by the rules of frontier police from
considering antiquity, Middle Ages, and modern times as
interconnected periods, nor from analyzing the most liberal
and the most applied works of art as equally important
documents of expression, that this method, endeavoring, as
it does, to throw light upon one dark spot, clears up at
the same time great interconnected developments

(Warburg, 1912; Heckscher, 1967).

Warburg's influence on the history of art was very
great, although he himself did not write much. It was
mainly the posthumous impact of his ideas, promul-
gated, as they were, by Fritz Saxl, which contributed
to the specific direction of studies, concentrated in the
library Warburg founded in Hamburg, and which Saxl
succeeded in transplanting during the Nazi era to
London, where it became the Warburg Institute of the
University of London. While the object of study of the
nineteenth-century iconographers was mainly religious
art in its relation to religious literary sources and lit-
urgy, for Warburg, the study of images was a study
of their relations to religion, to poetry, to myth, to
science, and to social and political life. Art was for
him closely connected with the polyphonic structure
of historical life.

Warburg's ideas had a great importance for the most
influential theory of iconographic interpretation in our
century, that elaborated by Erwin Panofsky. In Ham-
burg, where Warburg, Saxl, and Panofsky were active
in the twenties, Ernst Cassirer built up his philosophy
of symbolic forms, which constituted an additional
background for Panofsky's system, being derived, as
his own methodology was, from the traditions of
Kantian philosophy. Around 1930 Panofsky's ideas
ripened into a system, which found formulation in his
book herkules am Scheidewege (1930) and later in a
theoretical article of 1932. G. J. Hoogewerff was, how-
ever, the first to propose the word “iconology” as a
name for the method of an analysis of content in a
work of art (Warburg spoke of iconological analysis).
In 1931 he proposed distinguishing between iconogra-
phy, as a descriptive science aiming at the identifica-
tion of themes, and “iconology,” aiming at the under-
standing “of symbolic, dogmatic or mystical meaning
which is expressed (or hidden) in figurative forms.” He
stressed that “iconology” deals with works of art with-
out classifying them according to the technique used
or to the achieved perfection, taking into account only
their meaning. Hoogewerff saw the last aim of iconol-
ogy in finding out the cultural and ideological back-
ground expressed by works of art, and the cultural and
social significance which can be attributed to certain
forms and to means of expression in the same time.
Hoogewerff's part in the expansion of iconology was
limited, because he did not endorse his methodical
proposals with examples of historical interpretations.

Erwin Panofsky, with whose name iconology has
been connected ever since, not only developed its
theoretical foundations, but contributed by his practi-
cal work in art history to the main triumph of iconol-
ogy after the Second World War. The most influential
book by Panofsky has been Studies in Iconology (1939),
in which his masterly presentation of the method was
connected with its equally excellent exemplification.

2. Panofsky considers the interpretation of a work
of art as falling on three levels. On the first level, the
object of interpretation is the primary or natural sub-
ject matter. The function of interpretation is called
“pre-iconographical description.” In order to be able
to arrive at a correct interpretation on that level the
interpreter must have a practical experience (“famili-
arity with objects and events”) common to everybody,
at least in one cultural sphere. However, he has to
control his observations by a “corrective knowledge
of the history of style” (“insight into the manner in
which, under varying historical conditions, objects and
events were expressed by forms”). On the second level,
the function of interpretation is called “iconographical
analysis”; its object is the “secondary or conventional
subject matter,” constituting the world of images, his-
tories, and allegories. The interpreter's equipment in
this case is obviously the knowledge of literary sources,
giving him a “familiarity with specific themes and
concepts.” The interpreter has to control his observa-
tions by “the insight into the manner in which, under
varying historical conditions, specific themes or con-
cepts were expressed by objects and events.” On the
third level, the function of interpreting is called “icon-
ographical analysis in a deeper sense” (1939), or “icon-
ological analysis” (1955). Its object is the “intrinsic
meaning or content” of a work of art. The interpreter's
equipment on that level should be a “familiarity with
the essential tendencies of the human mind,” and he
has to control his interpretation by the “insight into
the manner in which, under varying historical condi-
tions, essential tendencies of the human mind were
expressed by specific themes and concepts.” Thus,
taking all the time into account what Panofsky calls
the history of tradition, the interpreter has to aim at
understanding the work of art, its “primary” as well
as “secondary subject matter,” as symptoms of some
fundamental tendency of the human mind, typical of


a place, a time, a civilization, and of an individual
responsible for the creation of the work. “Iconology”—
for Panofsky—“is a method of interpretation which
arises from synthesis rather than analysis.” Trying to
find the intrinsic meaning of a work of art,

The art historian will have to check what he thinks is the
intrinsic meaning of the work, or group of works... against
what he thinks is the intrinsic meaning of as many other
documents of civilization historically related to that work
or group of works, as he can master.... It is in the search
for intrinsic meaning or content that the various humanistic
disciplines meet on a common plane instead of serving as
handmaidens to each other

(Panofsky [1955], p. 39).

The concept of intrinsic meaning of a work of art
was elaborated by Panofsky much earlier (1925), when
he interpreted in his own way the concept of Kunst-
introduced by A. Riegl to research in art.
Panofsky understood this “artistic volition” as an im-
manent, ultimate meaning of a work of art, which is
manifested in the way basic artistic problems are solved
in that work. He used the same concept further to bring
art closer to the other fields of human activity. Since
the “immanent ultimate sense” of the work of art is
nothing else than uniformity in the way of solving basic
artistic problems, it is possible to compare that imma-
nent sense with immanent senses of the other human
works in various fields. Panofsky did it, for instance,
when in one of his later works he compared the struc-
tural principles of Gothic architecture with those of
scholastic thinking (1951).

The system elaborated by Panofsky and exemplified
by his own work in art history was the first consistent
system of an integral interpretation of a work of visual
arts, based on the analysis of content. In principle
Panofsky's system takes into account all the elements
of the work of art, since it takes as the point of depar-
ture the sensual, exterior shape of the work. It is,
however, clear, that its main scope is not the inter-
pretation of form as a bearer of meaning, but the
understanding and interpretation of conventional alle-
gories, literary themes, and symbols as symptoms of
the history of the human mind. It was that method
in the history of art which programmatically fostered
a collaboration with all the other disciplines of histori-
cal studies. It was therefore one of the most influential
methods, not only among art historians, but also among
representatives of the other branches of humanistic
studies. Although there were art historians who ex-
pressed a critical attitude toward “iconology,” as the
new method was soon baptized, its influence was over-

3. It is not only, but mainly, due to Panofsky, that
one can venture to call “iconographical” that period
of art history as a historical discipline, which followed
the Second World War, and to oppose it to the “stylis-
tic” one which preceded it. It does not mean, of course,
that no iconographic research took place in the
twenties or thirties: the works of Mâle, Knipping, van
Marle, Wilpert, Saxl, and of Panofsky himself would
contradict such a statement. Neither is it true that
purely formal research aiming at stylistic classification
and analysis discontinued after World War II. It is
evident that in the last decades (from 1940 on) icono-
graphic interests came to the fore and became domi-
nant in many countries. Iconographical studies grew
so much in number and importance, that they made
it possible to undertake and to publish new reference
works of iconographic character, like dictionaries
written by one scholar (Guy de Tervarent, Aurenham-
mer) as well as larger works based on a collaboration
of several scholars (Encyclopedias of German art, of
Antiquity and Christian civilization, of Byzantine art).

Interest in meaning and iconography has appeared
also among historians of political, social, and religious
institutions. The symbolism of signs, ceremonies, cos-
tumes, and arms was studied by such scholars as A.
Alföldi, “Insignien und Tracht der römischen Kaiser,”
Mitteilungen des deutschen Archäologischen Instituts,
Römische Abteilung
(1935), 1ff.; “Die Geburt der
kaiserlichen Bildsymbolik,” museum Helveticum, 9
(1952), 204ff.; also by A. Grabar, Martyrium (Paris,
1943-46); by E. H. Kantorowicz, laudes Regiae...
(Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1946); The King's Two
(Princeton, 1957); by H. P. L' Orange, Studies
in the Iconography of Cosmic Kingship in the Ancient
(Oslo, 1953); Art Forms and Civic Life in the
Late Roman Empire
(Princeton, 1965); and by P. E.
Schramm, herrschaftszeichen und Staatssymbolik
(Stuttgart, 1954-56). In their studies iconography far
transcends the borders of art, and it helps to build up
a history of ideas by following their various visual

Pioneering studies by K. Giehlow, F. Saxl, and E.
Panofsky enlarged iconographical interests above all
to encompass the large field of secular art, whereas
they had been mainly limited to religious iconography
in the work of preceding generations of scholars. The
whole, complicated, and hardly known large body of
meanings, disguised by the cryptic language of hiero-
glyphs, emblems, and iconologies, became one of the
main topics of study.

This established a collaboration between historians
of art and literature. Mario Praz's admirable study of
emblems and his bibliography of emblem books
(1939-47) belongs now to the foundations of studies
in that field. Publications by W. S. Heckscher and
A. K. Wirth, by R. S. Clements, E. F. von Monroy, and


H. M. von Erffa, E. de Jongh, and H. Miedema, and
several other scholars, have elucidated the structure
and meaning of emblems and have shown their tre-
mendous influence on art, even in its most monumental
and dignified forms. An uninterrupted flow of reprints
of emblem books, which brought within the reach of
modern students inaccessible volumes of sixteenth- and
seventeenth-century emblem writers, were crowned by
the monumental undertaking of Arthur Henkel and
Albrecht Schöne, who compiled an excellent volume
including almost all the texts and images needed for
the study of emblems—Emblemata, Handbuch zur
Sinnbildkunst des XVI. und XVII. Jahrhunderts

(Stuttgart, 1967). Research was under way on hiero-
glyphs (Erik Iversen), and on the imprese (the late
Robert Klein), as well as on iconologies and allegories.
These studies have disclosed meanings of the art of
the Renaissance, of mannerism, and of the baroque not
understood by nineteenth-century scholars.

E. Panofsky deciphered extremely farfetched and
individualistic programs of decoration of such famous
ensembles as the Camera di San Paolo by Correggio
in Parma, the Gallery of François I at Fontainebleau.
Edgar Wind, André Chastel, and other scholars inter-
preted Raphael's decorations in the Pope's apartments.
Michelangelo's art furnished material to detailed com-
prehensive studies by Panofsky, Ch. de Tolnay, H. von
Einem, and Pope-Hennessy, in which the share of
Neo-Platonic thinking in the ideological background
of the celebrated works of Michelangelo was discussed.
Innumerable studies have been devoted to Titian's
mythological paintings. J. R. Martin presented expla-
nations of the Carracci frescoes in the Camerino Far-
nese and in the great gallery of the Palazzo Farnese.
Bruegel, considered in the nineteenth century as a drôle
painter of peasant life, has been shown by de Tolnay,
Stridbeck, and others to be an allegorist expressing a
skeptical, humanistic outlook. J. S. Held and W.
Stechow contributed several articles to the under-
standing of mythological and allegorical contents in
Flemish and Dutch art of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. Rembrandt's iconography was put into new
light by the two above-mentioned scholars as well as
by H. M. Rotermund, H. van de Waal, J. G. van Gelder,
H. von Einem and Ch. Tümpel. The intricate symbol-
ism and subject matter of historical and mythological
pictures by Nicolas Poussin were elucidated by such
masters of iconographic research as E. H. Gombrich,
W. Friedländer, E. Panofsky, and above all by A. Blunt,
who in his monograph on Poussin presented a new,
deep, synthetic view of the ideas expressed by that
artist's works. Goya's individualistic, secret symbolism
was also studied with the help of emblems and the
allegorical tradition. Bernini's works received iconolo
gical treatment by R. Wittkower and H. Kauffmann.
All of this research does not mean that there was a
lack of interest in religious iconography. M. Schapiro,
A. Katzenellenbogen, H. Bober, F. Wormald, and V.
Elbern, among others, have contributed considerably
to deepen our understanding of the not completely
explained motifs and prominent works of medieval art.
Panofsky has also shed a new light on several problems
of sepulchral iconography; studies by such scholars as
R. Berliner, G. von der Osten, L. Kalinowski, S.
Ringbom, and T. Dobrzeniecki contributed to late
medieval iconography in a new way; Berliner stressed
the autonomous invention of visual artists or their
patrons, while according to the traditional view, popu-
larized by Mâle, late medieval art should have followed
strictly literary sources.

The religious content of modern art, especially its
allegorical form in the late baroque period, has been
examined, and thanks to studies by such scholars as
W. Mrazek and H. Bauer, has become better known,
and understandable. A great change was introduced
by “iconology” into architectural history. Buildings
which were formerly interpreted from aesthetic and
functional points of view only, have been shown to
present allegorical, symbolical, or even emblematic
ideas. Publications by leading art historians (R. Witt-
kower, B. Smith, G. Bandmann, O. von Simson, and
G. C. Argan) have presented medieval and modern
architecture as a bearer of meaning and have essen-
tially changed the character of architectural history.

The iconography of classicism and romanticism
received a thorough treatment in books by W. Hof-
mann and R. Rosenblum, as well as in several studies
devoted to individual themes and pictures. G. Hersey
has, for example, shown how much Delacroix's decora-
tion of the library in the Palais Bourbon owed to
Giambattista Vico's ideas about history. More recently,
studies on “Symbolism” have been undertaken. Vincent
van Gogh's symbolic language and iconography were
the object of studies by J. Seznec, C. Nordenfalk, and
other scholars. On Cézanne's iconography interesting
remarks have been published by M. Schapiro.

Along with the development of iconographic studies
the establishment of centers of documentation has
advanced. The “French” stage in the development of
iconography has not left any marked trace in this
respect. It was in America, thanks to C. R. Morey, that
the famous Index of Christian Art at the Department
of Art and Archaeology of Princeton University was
founded, at first limited to the early Middle Ages, then
enlarged so as to include art up to the end of the
medieval period. Copies of the Princeton Index are
to be found also at the Istituto Pontificio d'Archeolo-
gia in Rome, and in the Dumbarton Oaks Library and


Collection in Washington, D.C. But that Index ends
“where art begins”—as Panofsky used to say jokingly.
The need for systematic iconographic files for modern
art was strongly felt. In 1956, A. Pigler published a
very useful book, Barockthemen, in which he listed
thousands of works of art of the baroque period, ac-
cording to their subjects. It was, however, far from
being a systematic work. The first essay in establishing
a systematic iconographic index for art of any time
was done by The Netherlands Institute for Art History
at the Hague, then directed by H. Gerson, which took
the initiative around 1950 of publishing a postcard-size
photographic index of its rich collection of photographs
of Netherlandish art, ordered according to an icono-
graphic principle. Once such an idea was formulated,
the need for a comprehensive, consistent, and clear
iconographic classification was urgent. H. van de Waal
of Leiden University devised such a system of classifi-
cation, based on decimal divisions, consistent and easy
to read. He based his system on experiences of ethnol-
ogy and on such elaborated systems of classification
as that devised by Stith Thompson in his Motif-Index
of Folk Literature,
Vols. I-VI (Bloomington, Ind.,
1932-36; rev. ed., 1955-58). Van de Waal has elabor-
ated a system in which the first five main sections
classify five fundamental groups of portrayable things,
namely: (1) The Supernatural, (2) Nature, (3) Man, (4)
Society, (5) Abstracts. The last four classify specific
subjects, such as: (6) History, (7) The Bible, (8) Myths,
Legends, and Tales (with the exception of classical
antiquity), (9) Myths and Legends of Classical Antiq-
uity. Van de Waal combines the classification in the
first and in the second group in order to classify general
as well as specific subjects. Christ, in his system, is
described with the sign “11 D” (“1” standing for Su-
pernatural, “11” for Christianity, “D” for Christ); the
adult Christ = 11 D 3; since “shepherd” on the other
hand bears the signature 47 I 22.1, the adult Christ
as a shepherd can be described in this system by the
following formula: 11 D 3 = 47 I 22.1. Van de Waal
has also provided means to describe more complex
images, which he expresses by adding elements between
brackets. The Annunciation with God the Father and
a winged Angel is expressed by the following formula:
73 A 5 (+1 +41), “1” standing for God the Father
and “41” for a winged Angel (van de Waal, 1952). This
system elaborated for many years by its inventor, and
prepared for publication in many volumes, has proved
most useful in the practical arrangement of the Icono-
graphical Index of the Netherlandish Art and, as the
only one until now in existence, it became used more
and more, in spite of some ambiguities and difficulties.
As an endeavor to classify “all portrayable” things,
persons, events, and ideas, and to create a consistent
method to describe every possible image, van de Waal's
system may be considered as one of the important
achievements of the “iconographical stage” in the
development of art history. Iconographic files exist of
course in many institutions, as for example in the Ikon-
ologisch Instituut of Utrecht University, one of the
main centers of study in emblematics, and of course
in the most venerable institution of iconographic re-
search, the Warburg Institute of the London University
and in other places.

4. What was the result of this “iconographic” turn
in the development of the history of art? One thing
is certain: that this discipline by necessity has come
closer to other humanistic disciplines. Since the
“intrinsic” meaning—in Panofsky's terminology—of a
work of art cannot be described in terms used by the
history of art, but only in terms borrowed from the
history of philosophy, of religion, of social structures,
of science, and so on, the “iconological method” took
for granted and provoked such a collaboration. Art
history was perhaps the first, or one of the first to show
new interest in investigation of meaning. It was fol-
lowed by similar developments in ethnology and in

We have mentioned above a parallel development
in Byzantine and classical studies. Panofsky's influence
has been considerable in the other fields of humanistic
research. Since “iconology” aimed at discovering ideas
expressed by a work of art, it awoke in art historians
an interest in the history of ideas. This general shift
of emphasis and of the direction of studies from mainly
formal ones to studies aiming at ideas underlying art,
was perhaps responsible, among others, for the fact that
several contributions to the Journal of the History of
have been written by historians of art.

It is not difficult to see that such a development
should have provoked criticism on the side of those
who care about the purity and autonomy of methods.
Iconology was criticized as far as its internal coherence,
and also as far as its claim to be the integral method
of the study of art are concerned (Białostocki, 1962).
Studies by R. Klein, E. Forssman, G. Previtali, G.
Kubler, B. Teyssèdre, C. Ginzburg, and G. Hermeren
expressed critical opinions in one or the other respect.
Iconology linked art with the rest of history, but it
disrupted the links between the work of art and other
things (Kubler, 1962). Concentrating on meaning,
iconology neglected art as form, as individual expres-
sion. Iconology implied a rational relationship between
intellectual content and artistic form. On the one hand,
one spoke of “iconological diminutions” (Kubler,
1962)—limitations of research to meaning only. But
on the other hand, the overstatements of iconology
were criticized: its representatives sometimes seemed


to assume everything symbolized something. And some
iconologists seemed to consider important in art not
that which makes art a different field of human activity,
but that which connects art with other fields—with
the history of ideas.

There were of course critics who had the opposite
opinion. Since the end of the eighteenth century, a
direct experience of art was more and more valued,
and its symbolical function considered as a burden.
J. G. von Herder said: ein Kunstwerk ist der Kunst
wegen da; aber bei einem Symbole ist die Kunst
(“A work of art is there because of art; but
with a symbol art is a service”). Similar opinions were
expressed by nineteenth-century art writers, and in this
century they have been voiced by Benedetto Croce and
by other Italian opponents of contenutismo, by which
they meant interest in content. For such critics to put
stress on iconography was to miss the essential in art
and to focus attention on a subordinate function of art.

Also among scholars who considered the function
of representation and of communication as a legitimate
and important function of art, criticism was expressed,
not against the principle of an iconographical or icon-
ological investigation, but against overstatements in
their application. The introduction of the idea of “dis-
guised symbolism” has created a danger, of course, of
opening the way to fanciful interpretations. The alle-
gorical and symbolical function of mythological imag-
ery in classical art is also difficult to interpret precisely.
Since no literary sources give a key to an interpretation
of the iconography of the sarcophagi, very divergent
theories have been expressed concerning their meaning.
Some archaeologists, like F. Cumont (1942), believe
that mythological and allegorical imagery (Anadyo-
mene, Sea-Thiasos, Personifications of the Seasons) is
to be read symbolically. The Sea-Thiasos, for instance,
is to be interpreted as a symbol of the journey of the
souls of the deceased to the islands of the blessed.
Others, like A. D. Nock (1946), do not find enough
evidence to accept other than a decorative function
in such imagery.

The intrusion of some representatives of psychology,
e.g., C. G. Jung, into iconographic studies, giving them
an unhistorical turn in their search for “archetypal
images,” has complicated the situation, although art
historians in general understandably have not accepted
that kind of approach to symbolism (Frankfort, 1958;
Gombrich, 1965).

The fact that iconographic interpretations sometimes
lack satisfactory proofs does not detract from the im-
portance of such investigations, so long as they are
conducted according to the requirements of historical
methods, and take into account the corrective princi-
ples established by Panofsky. A correct acquaintance
with the way of thinking of the artist, the patron, or the
viewer based on a satisfactory knowledge of documen-
tary, visual, and literary sources, an awareness of the
choice situations produced by historical developments,
may enable art historians to discover the secondary
meaning of a work of art as well as its intrinsic mean-
ing. It is, of course, possible that the art historian will
meet some works for which it will not be possible to re-
construct in a satisfactory way the world of ideas that
would account for the meaning of those works. In such
cases a reliable interpretation is simply not possible.

R. Berliner (1945; 1966) criticized the widespread
opinion according to which content of the works of
visual arts in the Middle Ages had to be checked
against the literary sources, considered as the only
medium in which ideological innovations were per-
mitted. Berliner pleaded for assuming a considerable
“freedom” in the medieval artist and he considered
iconographic innovation possible, even when no writ-
ten evidence could be found. Meyer Schapiro (1947)
presented proofs that sometimes purely aesthetic rea-
sons decided the character of the work of art even as
early as the Romanesque period.

We can only touch on some specific discussions going
on in the field of iconographic research. But iconogra-
phic research is far from being a closed system and
the relative share of iconographic and stylistic criticism
in the work of art historians is always a matter of
discussion. It is certain that the “iconographic” period
in the study of art has enlarged in a considerable way
the understanding of the art of the past and that it
has connected art history, in a way unknown before,
with the other historical disciplines, and above all others
with the history of ideas.