This after we had a lecture I found quite interesting based on Iconology and Art Nouveau with Dr Anna Powell.
Iconology means looking instead of seeing. It is when the meaning in visuals isn’t always as obvious and it seems so we use evidence in the picture to unlock the meaning instead. Sometimes these can be metaphors, meaning an object can stand for something else other than it’s physical value. E.g, an onion could stand for tears as it can brings tears to your eyes when cutting in literal form. A way to decode images is to think what genre are we looking at or why type of text? Then you have to think further; what else is there? You need to read between the lines. What is the evident detail? A point to bear in mind when following this method is that it is possible to over read as it doesn’t always work. This will enable you to create your own interpretation and theories of the meaning behind art.
An example we looked at during this session is Jan Van Eycks ‘The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait’ 1434 which is referenced in the intro to the TV series ‘Desperate housewives’ along with many other iconographic associations such as Adam and Eve. The TV intro shows how iconography can be used in the modern day. The painting is very popular amongst theorists as there are so many different ideas about what the portrait actually means.
First, looking at this painting you can see a man and a woman. This is thought to be Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini; a wealthy merchant, and his wife. The second thing you see is that the woman appears to be pregnant. Looking further you begin to notice that the couples aren’t wearing their shoes, the reflection in the mirror, the dog, and the single lit candle. There are endless features of this painting which give open potential to analyse the iconology. After picking out the little things in the painting, we can then begin to ask why? The clothes and decor and very intricate suggesting the couple are wealthy, this is an obvious thought. But thinking deeper; there is a single lit candle which is odd when it is day light. Some people believe this represents that God is always watching and is present in the room. Another theory is to suggest life. It is believed that Arnolfini’s wife passed away at least by 1433 and so this could be to signify a tribute to her, the lit candle been on his side, while the candle above his wife is out. Another icon in the painting is the mirror. At the time, it would have been impossible to have such a big mirror as the tools and technology wasn’t invented to be able to produce it. Ignoring this fact, some people believe it suggests clarity and purity. If you pay attention to smaller detail around this, there is imagery from the Passion of Christ in the detail showing a spiritual and religious side. In the reflection of the mirror you can see the door way, in which too people are standing facing the couple. To this day no body knows who the other two people are, but by the couples gestures (Arnolfini appears to be holding his wives hand, possibly blessing her, while moving his hands in the sign of the cross), this suggests that this is some kind of ceremony which is where the painting got it’s name from. The two people could be family, or the artist, or the audience. The final point I am going to make on this painting is based on the roles of the gender. In those times, woman were painted to made to look like porcelain dolls. This is because they are seen more for their beauty and to be gracious, as the man has far more detail in his face giving his a more real life appearance. The fact that the woman is stood nearer the bed and the man nearer the window suggests that the womans place was within the home while the man had a life outside the home. Below are a couple video’s where you can listen to others idea of the theory behind the painting.
Another example of iconography is Santa Claus. Many people believe that Coca Cola revolutionised his outfit to make people believe he wore red, however this idea began long before then. St Nicholas originally wore a green coat and literally had claws like a monster. Looking back to older version, nowadays it would be very difficult to recognise him without his red suit although he still wears his belt and clothing the same way. Over the years people have manipulated his image to become something more jolly and exciting to children. We now recognise him from his ‘traditional’ red suit and rosy red cheeks.
Looking at a more modern day example of semiotics is The Beetles album covers. The ‘Abbey Road’ cover has a few icons you could read into, although most are just theories and not proven. For example, the oddly placed Beatle car; Some people believe this was coincidence that this was parked there, however others believe that the 281F on the reg plate means that if Paul McCartney was still alive he would have been 28 years old on the release of the album. There are other things to pick up such as been shoeless and the cigarette in the right hand when he was left handed. People have made many suggestions over these. The ‘Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band’ album is also rumoured to have hidden iconography. The cover actually has 88 people featured, including the band members, cardboard cut outs and wax sculptures, it took a long time to gather everyones permission for the making. Some theorists suggest that all the people used in the photograph are very successful and loved by many, however this doesn’t mean they feel it and may sometimes feel lonely sometimes.
Moving onto Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau was a very brief art movement that ran from the early 1890’s to the start of WW1 and had a very high impact. It was known as the ‘new style’ and influenced all elements of life from furniture, architecture, jewellery and poster design. It was popularised by the German magazine ‘Jugend’ translating to ‘youth’.
We looked at several popular examples of Art Nouveau to enable to pick out the similarities in the designs. Using examples by Peter Brehrens ‘The Kiss’ 1898, Henry Van De Velde, Alphonse Mucha and Aubrey Beardsley (who was said to be one of the most controversial Art Nouveau figures at the time) , we can analyse that the style consists of black outlines, themes of nature and flowing lines, woman figures and resistance of geometric shapes and lines.
At the time the Arts & Crafts movement was very popular, particularly a guy called William Morris who I’ll be looking at later. They believed in traditional art methods (use of hand crafts). People began to notice that not all art was accepted and some was even rejected from galleries. A group formed that believed they could combine all types of crafts such as woodwork and painting, they thought they could align all arts onto the same level. The german term ‘gestamtkunstwerk’ was often used which translates to ‘the total work of art’.
From 1898-1903 Ver Sacrum (a magazine) was published. It is latin for ‘sacred spring’. At the time is was thought to be ground breaking and innovative as it promoted the Art Nouveau movement and used pioneering techniques such as typography styles and the grid system. Back then, most publications were the same size, but the Ver Sacrum broke free of this and use a square format.
Art Nouveau is very much still a large influence in todays design. Some of it’s characteristics returned in the psychedelia movement such as the curvy lines and typography. It was an influence in Gaudis ‘House of Bones’ and Cathedral in Barcelona. It is even reflected in tattoo design, anime, posters, and photography, – especially the female figure surrounding with flowing lines. It is also believed by some people that Starbucks and Coca-Cola have adapted it into their logo’s.