29 April 2008

Rough notes towards an argument against Baxandall

  1. Prefer 'iconographical reductionism' to 'iconographical minimalism'.
  2. B's argument fails on his own terms. If he asks us to prefer the explanation that explains all the features of a picture and his explanation doesn't explain the angels' handshake or the pointing finger, then we should prefer an explanation that does.
  3. B suppresses acknowledged function of 15th century privately commissioned paintings as allowing patrons to show off their education and sophistication to their peers in favour of Church commissioned pictures' didactic function (deliberate deception?). This is a privately commissioned picture. Note common feature of religions to encode two or more things in same story – one simple one for general population, another (often quite different) for elites.
  4. Related to 3 is that magical thinking was prevalent in the culture – systems of correspondences etc, including number symbolism. Given P's mathematical ability and friendship with people such as Nicholas of Cusa (which B might not have known about), elaborate geometrical symbolism is one of P's resources. Note limited nature of geometrical scheme B presents (another deception?).
  5. Related to 4 is P's early training as heraldic painter, which would have taught him to see the division of space as a way of conveying meaning (note that B could not have known this).
  6. B's insistence of purely formal solutions to problems seems unreasonable. It doesn't take account of 15th century iconography, nor of role of humanists in deciding iconographical scheme (related to 3 but in tension with 4 – resolve by arguing for P playing active role with humanists in deciding scheme (cf Arezzo)).
  7. Is a reductionist account (what you see is what you get) best way of dealing with good pictures, part of whose interest surely lies in the way they work at several levels? How does that fit with B's (disingenuous) acknowledgement that his not necessarily best way to look at pictures?

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