Judith slaying holofernes by artemisia gentileschi iconographic essay


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  • Develop an iconographic essay. Select a work from this module to write the essay on. Utilize the objectives and above information to develop the statement.  The essay must include a thesis statement/introduction, supporting body, and conclusion. The conclusion should provide a synthesis of the statements and thesis into a final idea about what the audience should remember and take away from the assignment.
  1. List the objects and subjects included in the painting
  2. Provide an iconographic definition (ala dictionary or glossary for each item)
  3. Identify the narrative source for each item (artist invention, poem, narrative, biblical, greco-roman, other presence, real life historical or cultural artifact as symbol, other artworks and ideas as symbols, etc.) (ex.  Alexander the Great as a symbol; American Flag as a symbol; Greek mythology as symbols; The hammer and sickle in Russia, the american eagle, a soldier, etc.)
  4. Is there more than one context for the iconographic or symbolic representation of the idea? How many contexts or roles is each symbolic object fulfilling in presenting, adding, or relaying meaning about the subject;  (current age vs. past age; multiple metaphors; multiple layers of ideas etc.)
  5. Symbols and Icons in different contexts – define how the symbols and subjects make one idea serve another idea (A Greek god is rebranded and used in Rome. What does this act mean for Rome to use a Greek Religious concept) 
  6. What do the symbols mean in the age, or multiple ages, and how are we supposed to connect to them in the context of the work? – ex. How are greco-roman subject and symbols used and perceived in a Renaissance age? Why would someone in the Renaissance care about Ancient Greco-Roman gods and subjects, what’s in it for a Renaissance Italian or Renaissance Italy for that matter?

Analysis through Iconology

  • This kind of analysis usually is most useful for narrative works and art before the Modern period. Non-objective art or art with arbitrary subjects (such as DADA) don’t work as well with this kind of analysis because narratives and conventional symbols are not a part of these works. Here you will look for a particular element that occurs in the object (an object, action, gesture, pose) and explain either:
  1. when that same element occurs in other objects through history and how this object’s representation of it is unique, or
  2. what that element means generally in art or to art historians—in other words, the traditional association an art historian might make between that depiction and some other thing.
  3. The following video provides an example of Iconological analysis. The video speaks to the meaning of the gestures, iconography, meaning of certain types of depiction, and other narrative imagery and symbolism related to those narrative elements. https://youtu.be/rKhfFBbVtFg
  4.  If you are confused, read Erwin Panofsky’s essays on iconology and iconography, in which he defines these terms more extensively. Be warned that Panofsky makes a clear distinction between iconography and iconology, but many art historians do not—they often use the word “iconography” when they mean both. Art historians study iconography and iconology so often that they have compiled reference texts that list many of the famous works that show particular themes—you might use these as a resource, so ask the art librarian about them. One such resource is the Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art by James Hall. 

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