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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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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.