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Introduction to Art History Research

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1 Introduction to Art History Research

2 ‘I read texts, images, cities, faces, gestures, scenes, etc.’ Roland Barthes (1915–1980)


4 Ab re non facimus, si per visibilia invisibilia demonstramus [We will not err if we show invisible things by means of visible ones] Gregory the Great Kunst gibt nicht das sichtbar wieder, aber macht sichtbar [Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible] Paul Klee

5 In many religions images play a crucial part in creating the experience of the sacred. They both express and form (and so also document) the different views of the supernatural held in different periods and cultures: views of gods and devils, saints and sinners, heavens and hells.


7 In the sixteenth century, Europeans who visited India sometimes perceived the images of Indian gods as devils. The propensity to view non-Christian religions as diabolical was reinforced by the fact that these ‘monsters’ with many arms or animal heads broke the western rules for representing the divine. Dancing Ganesha, 900-1000, sandstone. India, Madhya Pradesh state. Asian Art Museum

8 Shiva (Lord of the Dance) Nataraja, 13 th century. Bronze. The Museum of Fane Arts, Houston Again, western viewers confronted with the image of the god Shiva dancing, a type known as Shiva ‘Lord of the Dance’ (Nataraja), may not realize that the dance is a cosmic one, symbolizing the act of creating or destroying the universe (although the flames commonly represented around the god provide a clue to the symbolism).

9 The iconography mattered at the time because images were a means of ‘indoctrination’ in the original sense of the term, the communication of religious doctrines. The remarks on this subject by Pope Gregory the Great were quoted again and again over the centuries. ‘Pictures are placed in churches so that those who cannot read in books might ‘read’ by viewing the walls’ (in parietibus videndo legant quae legere in codicibus non valent).

10 Pictures that were designed to arouse emotions may surely be used as documents for the history of those emotions. For example, they suggest that there was a particular preoccupation with pain in the later Middle Ages. This was the period when the cult of the instruments of the Passion reached its height.

11 Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, 1651. The Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome In the seventeenth century, on the other hand, there seems to have been a greater preoccupation with ecstasy, which achieved its most famous expression in Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture representing the Ecstasy of St Teresa (1651)


13 The religious art discussed in the last chapter eveloped in the early centuries of Christianity by appropriating elements from Roman imperial art. The frontal pose of emperors and consuls on thrones was adapted to represent Christ or the Virgin ‘in Majesty’, while the imperial halos were transferred to the saints.


15 Eugиne Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830–31, oil on canvas. Musйe du Louvre, Paris Eugиne Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People is by far the most famous of the many images of liberty which appeared in paint, plaster and bronze in the aftermath of the Parisian rising of 27–29 July, later known as the Revolution of 1830.

16 Delacroix shows Liberty half as goddess (modelled on a Greek statue of Victory), half as a woman of the people, the tricolour raised in one hand and a musket in the other, her bare breasts and her Phrygian cap (a classical reference) symbolizing the freedom in the name of which the revolution was made.

17 Frйdйric Auguste Bartholdi, Statue of Liberty, New York, 1884–6 The Statue of Liberty (illus. 21), designed by the French sculptor Frйdйric Auguste Bartholdi (1834– 1904) and unveiled in 1886, is even more celebrated, combining the image of a modern Colossus of Rhodes guarding the harbour of New York with an ideological message.

18 The broken chains at her feet, a traditional attribute of Liberty, reveal her identity, while the lamp in her hand refers to the sculptor’s original conception of ‘Liberty enlightening the world’.

19 Yevgeny Vuchetich, Mother Motherland, Mother Motherland Is Calling (The Motherland), 1967. Volgograd, Russia


21 A more common solution to the problem of making the abstract concrete is to show individuals as incarnations of ideas or values. In the western tradition, a set of conventions for the representation of the ruler as heroic, indeed superhuman, was established in classical antiquity.

22 Statue of the Emperor Augustus (63 BC-–AD 14), stone. Museo Gregoriano Profano, Rome. In this memorable image, Augustus is represented wearing armour, holding a spear or a standard, and raising his arm as if proclaiming victory. The ruler’s bare feet are not a sign of humility, as a modern viewer might think, but a means of assimilating Augustus to a god.

23 Statue of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180 AD), bronze. Museo Capitolino, Rome Equestrian statues such as that of the cloaked and curly-headed emperor Marcus Aurelius (ruled AD 161–80) long displayed on the Capitol in Rome – and now replaced by a copy – made visible and palpable the metaphor of ruling as riding.

24 One of the most memorable of the long series of equestrians is the original ‘bronze horseman’ of Pushkin’s phrase, the statue of Peter the Great commissioned by the empress Catherine from the French sculptor Etienne-Maurice Falconet and unveiled in 1782.

25 Nicolas Arnoult, Engraving of a (now destroyed) statue of Louis XIV by Martin Desjardins, c. 1686, formerly in the Place des Victoires, Paris. The standing figure of Louis XIV, crowned with laurel by a winged figure (representing Victory), treading on a three- headed dog (representing the Triple Alliance of Louis’ enemies, the Empire, Britain and the Netherlands), and accompanied by chained captives.

26 The examples cited so far have been taken from the age of personal monarchy, of the belief in the ‘divine right’ of kings to rule, and of ‘absolutism’, in other words, the theory that the ruler was above the law. What happened to images when this political system changed, especially after 1789? How could the conventions of royal portraiture be adapted to the ideology of progress, modernity, liberty, equality and fraternity?

27 Jacques-Louis David, The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812, oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington The painting of Napoleon by Jacques- Louis David (1748–1825), presented a relatively new aspect of power, the ruler as bureaucrat, tied to his desk even in the small hours of the morning (a candle has been lit and the clock shows nearly quarter past four).

28 Mussolini jogging on the beach at Riccione, 1930s, photograph. Another form of adaptation to an age of democracy has been to stress the virility, youth and athleticism of the leader. Mussolini, for example, liked to be photographed jogging, whether in military uniform or stripped to the waist.

29 Vladimir Serov, Peasant Petitioners Visiting Lenin, 1950, oil on canvas. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow This style may also be illustrated by photographs of visits to factories in which the head of state speaks to ordinary workers and shakes their hands, or images of ‘walkabouts’ in which politicians kiss babies, or paintings demonstrating the accessibility of the ruler, as in Vladimir Serov’s Peasant Petitioners Visiting Lenin, a painting which shows the most powerful man in Russia listening intently to three peasants, two of them seated at his table, and taking careful notes of their needs.

30 Palace of the Soviets (1931–1933), Boris Iofan, Vladimir Shchuko, Vladimir Gelfreikh The classical tradition of the colossus, associated with Alexander the Great, was revived in the USSR. There was a plan to top the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow with a statue of Lenin 100 meters high (as in the case of Alexander the Great, the project was never carried out).


32 Historians of agriculture, weaving, printing and other practical activities – the list is virtually infinite – have long drawn heavily on the testimony of images to reconstruct. Thus a small detail in the painting of The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello (1397–1475) is one testimony among others to the way in which a crossbowman held his instrument while he was reloading it.


34 Vittore Carpaccio, Miracle at the Rialto, c. 1496, oil on canvas. Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice Urban historians have long been concerned with what they sometimes call ‘the city as artifact’. Visual evidence is particularly important for this approach to urban history. For example, there are valuable clues to the appearance of Venice in the fifteenth century in the background of paintings in the eyewitness style’.

35 Giovanni Antonio Canaletto (1697– 1768). La Piazza San Marco in Venice (1723–1724), Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain In the middle of the seventeenth century, townscapes, like landscapes, became an independent pictorial genre, beginning in the Netherlands with views of Amsterdam, Delft and Haarlem and spreading widely in the eighteenth century. Giovanni Antonio Canaletto (1697–1768), one of the best-known exponents of this genre, known in Italian as ‘views’ (vedute), worked in Venice and for a few years in London.


37 Pieter de Hooch, Courtyard of a House in Delft, 1658, oil on canvas. National Gallery, London In the case of images of the interiors of houses, the ‘reality effect’ is even stronger than in that of townscapes. I vividly remember my own reaction, as a small boy visiting the National Gallery in London, to paintings by Pieter de Hooch (1629–1684), who specialized in interiors of Dutch houses and courtyards, complete with mothers, servants, children, men drinking and smoking pipes, buckets, barrels, linen chests and so on.

38 Jacob Ochtervelt, Street Musicians at the the Doorway of a House, 1665, oil on canvas. The Art Museum, St. Louis Art Museum The doorway, the frontier between public and private zones, is the centre of interest in a number of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings. One artist, Jacob Ochtervelt (1634–1682), specialized in such scenes: street musicians at the door, or people selling cherries, grapes, fish or poultry.

39 Jan Steen, The Disorderly Household, 1668, oil on canvas. Apsley House (The Wellington Museum), London Often taken to be simple celebrations of everyday life, a number of these interiors have been interpreted by a leading Dutch art historian, Eddy de Jongh as moral allegories in which what was being celebrated was the virtue of cleanliness or that of hard work. The Disorderly Household by Jan Steen (1626–1679), for example, with playing cards, oyster- shells, loaves and even a hat artfully scattered on the floor, clearly carries a message about the links between order and virtue, disorder and sin.

40 Vittore Carpaccio, St Augustine in his Study, 1502–8, oil and tempera on canvas. Scuola di S. Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Venice Renaissance paintings, sketches and woodcuts of scholars in their studies, especially the scholarly saints or saintly scholars Jerome and Augustine, have been used as evidence for the equipment of the studies of the humanists, their desks, bookshelves and lecterns. In the case of Carpaccio’s St Augustine in his Study, for instance, the socalled ‘revolving chair’ has attracted particular attention, though the presence of statuettes, a shell, an astrolabe and a bell.

41 Albrecht Durer, St Jerome in his Study, 1514, engraving For a more neighbourly comparison, we might juxtapose the Carpaccio image to the equally famous woodcut of St Jerome in his Study (1514) by Albrecht Durer (illus. 43), whether what is revealed is a difference between individual painters or a more general contrast between studies in Italy and Germany.



44 William Hogarth, The Graham Children, 1742, oil on canvas. National Gallery, London William Hogarth’s portrait of The Graham Children, painted in 1742, has been described as ‘one of the definitive accounts of eighteenth-century childhood’, making a statement about childish playfulness as well as displaying the differences in the characters of the four young sitters, the eldest girl for example being shown as ‘selfconsciously motherly in her solemn expression’.


46 It is a commonplace of women’s history that – like the history of childhood – it has often had to be written against the grain of the sources, especially the archive sources, created by men and expressing their interests. As in the case of historians of ancient Egypt or the early Middle Ages, the silence of the official documents has encouraged historians of women to turn to images representing activities in which women engaged in different places and times.

47 Zhang Zeduan, Detail of a street scene in Kaifeng, from Spring Festival on the River, hand scroll, early 12th century, ink and colour on silk. Palace Museum, Beijing A few examples from China, Japan and India may serve to illustrate this point. Street scenes, for instance, show what kinds of people are expected to be visible in public in a given period and culture. Thus a painted scroll representing a street in the city in China shows a predominantly male street population, although a woman of substance sitting in a palanquin may be seen passing in the foreground. A historian of Song China concludes that ‘Men could be seen everywhere in the business districts of the capital; women were a rare sight.’

48 Greek red-figure vase painting by the ‘Painter of Bologna’ showing two girls (fl. 480‒450 bc). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Female literacy as well as women’s work may be tracked through the ages thanks to images, from ancient Greece onwards. A Greek vase shows two girls hand in hand, and includes a significant small detail. One of the figures is carrying her writing tablets by a strap, as if it was expected that some girls would learn to write.

49 ‘Be good, children! Because for an evil-doer the approach of death is terrible!’, engraving of a village school, from Nicolas-Edme Retif de la Bretonne, La Vie de mon pиre (Neufchвtel and Paris, 1779) Some early modern images of schools show segregation by gender, with boys and girls on different sides, as in this engraving of an eighteenthcentury French rural school. It should be noted that the boys have a table to write on while the girls sit with their hands in their laps as if they were expected simply to listen, implying that they were learning to read but not to write.

50 Peter Bruke. Eyewitnessing. The Use of Images as Historical Evidence

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