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Women in Religious Art  

Diane Apostolos-Cappadona

Like religion, art has been a fundamental component of human experience since the beginning of time. Often working in partnership, occasionally at odds, art and religion form a combination that has been a source of inspiration, pedagogy, contemplation, and celebration of the relationship between the human and the divine. However, each individual religion and its culture have encountered the arts differently; these encounters are reflected in distinctive attitudes toward the human, sex, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class, as well as configuration of the holy. The human figure has been a common denominator in the arts envisioning transformations in cultural and societal attitudes, economic and political perceptions, and religious doctrines. Traditional wisdom suggests that the majority of world cultures and religions are established upon a patriarchal structure so that representations of the male body project attitudes of power while the female body projects negative attributes. More recent scholarship by feminist art historians, critics, cultural historians, and religious historians provides new ways of looking at the female figure and the role of women in religious art including the history of women artists, patrons, collectors, and, most recently, as critics and curators. Further surveying the iconography of specific women, whether deities, historical personages, or legendary beings, in the history of a religion affords the opportunity not simply to analyze variations in artistic styles but also to witness how religion shapes and informs cultural, societal, and even legal definitions of women. While the majority of scholarly investigations have focused on Western religions, the possibilities of both comparative analyses and innovative studies of non-Western iconographies of women in religious art can both inform and expand global recognition of the categories of gender, race, and ethnicity as well as research methodologies. The Western model of iconography may be found wanting and open to enrichment through engagement with new categories and models of analysis.

Article

Iconography and Iconology  

Davor Džalto

Iconography and iconology are the ways of describing and interpreting images and their meaning. Although closely related, iconography and iconology can be understood as distinct disciplines. When clearly differentiated, iconography is understood as a method of identifying and describing the themes and motifs (“subject matter”) represented in an image, while iconology is understood as an interpretation of the meaning of images. Especially in the contemporary applications of the method, iconology is often understood as an interdisciplinary enterprise. In its rudimentary form, iconography has been practiced since the earliest recorded attempts to describe images, conveying “what is depicted” in the medium of language. Already in antiquity is the application of the iconographic method understood as a way of relating depicted visual forms with textual sources, aimed at an identification of the subject matter in images. In the Renaissance, attempts at the systematization and codification of the most commonly used motifs in visual arts are found, resulting in manuals that offered a description of the motifs and an explanation of the meaning of particular symbols or entire scenes. The modern period (especially the 19th and 20th centuries) is the time when iconography was fully developed as a method, but this is also the time of a clearer differentiation (both conceptual and terminological) between iconography and iconology. A series of authors, primarily art historians, contributed to this differentiation and to the development of iconology as a discipline that deals with the meaning in and of images and artworks. Among the most prominent ones are Aby Warburg, Erwin Panofsky, and Ernst Gombrich. Iconology, understood as an interdisciplinary approach to the issue of visual phenomena, has successfully been applied in the interpretation of a variety of visual phenomena, from ancient, medieval, and Renaissance artworks to works of contemporary art and visual culture understood more broadly.