"La Rivista di Engramma (open access)" ISSN 1826-901X

165 | maggio 2019


B. Baert, Fragments. Studies in Iconology. A presentation

“Studies in Iconology” 14
Leuven-Paris-Bristol, Ct 2018, 400 pp.

Barbara Baert & Stephanie Heremans

English abstract

1 | Barbara Baert, Fragments, Stephanie Heremans (ed.), Leuven 2018.

Fragments is a celebratory work, compiled especially for “The Right Moment: A Symposium on Kairotic Energies” (18-19 October 2018, Brussels) organized by Barbara Baert in collaboration with the Francqui Foundation, and published within the “Studies in Iconology” series.

Fragments and the symposium are Baert’s response to her being awarded the Francqui Prize Human Sciences, the highest and most prestigious scholarly and scientific award in Belgium, in 2016. The jury rapport of the Francqui Prize states on its laureate:

Professor Baert’s truly innovative approach to the iconology of Mediaeval Art, which has placed into the foreground the senses, materiality, and various aspects of the female and male body, and iconographic themes that have been neglected in the past, has deeply transformed the way European religious and secular art of the Middle Ages is viewed.

Since 1933, the Francqui Prize has been granted almost every year, successively in the fields of exact sciences, humanities, and biological and medical sciences. Being awarded also comes with the great honour of organizing one’s own celebratory symposium. Therefore, Baert envisioned Fragments and “The Right Moment: A Symposium on Kairotic Energies” as tokens of her gratitude and sings of encouragement towards the desire of a deeper understanding of our artistic environments.

2 | Visualization of the network of all lemmata.

Fragments is loosely conceptualized as a ‘glossary’. The volume consists of hundred-and-ten lemmata, from Acheiropoietos to Zwischenraum. Each lemma presents an encompassing explanation, a shorter experimental or even a poetic musing in order to circumscribe concepts and terms that frequently occur in the field of iconology, and Baert’s research specifically.

Moreover, Fragments offers a unique anthology of her work as it is compiled entirely out of her writings. Images of one or several iconic artefacts are paired with most of the lemmata, they invite the readers to embrace the beauty of these artefacts, the multiple disciplines and genres that are continuously crossing each other not only in Fragments, but also in the humanities and art. Cross-referencing arrows, that are found throughout all lemmata, conveniently accompany us from one lemma to many others. They are intended to guide the readers through, and even deeper into, Baert’s ever-expanding microcosm.

The web is spun on the air/breath and it sways in the wind.
Even a gale cannot easily destroy it due to its exceptional elasticity.
However fragile the web may seem, it is, in principle, an indestructible artefact.
The web is made up of intersections, where strength is concentrated.
(Quoted from the lemma on ‘Web’).

This web visualizes the wiring of Fragments by revealing the intersections of the hundred-and-ten lemmata. It showcases the ‘knots’ that tie all of Baert’s fragments together, and when a lemma reoccurs more often its ‘knot’ thickens. It turned out that ‘Body’ was mentioned most frequently. Besides giving a general overview of Fragments contents, this web also visualizes the key concepts in Baert’s body of work.

Fragments appeared as a celebratory volume in the peer-reviewed “Studies in Iconology” series, published at Peeters Publishers, of which Baert is the founder and editor-in-chief. Generally, this series accepts interdisciplinary contributions that deepen the understanding of the visual medium, alongside the history of mankind, by combining insights from art history, cultural anthropology, philosophy and theology. The volumes are original, thought evoking and often somewhat daring or experimental, and therefore truly reflect Barbara Baert’s spirit.

Fifteen bright red volumes have already appeared:

  • 1 | B. Baert, Nymph. Motif, Phantom, Affect. A Contribution to the Study of Aby Warburg (1866-1929), Leuven 2014.
    Behind them, close to the open door, there runs – no, that is not the word, there flies, or rather there hovers – the object of my dreams, which slowly assumes the proportion of a harming nightmare. A fantastic figure – should I call her a servant girl, or rather a classical nymph? [...] This lively, light-footed and rapid gait, this striding step, which contrasts with the aloof distance of all other figures, what is the meaning of it all? [...] My condition varied between a bad dream and a fairy tale [...]. I lost my reason. It was always her who brought life and movement into an otherwise calm scene. Indeed, she appeared to be the embodiment of movement [...] but is it very unpleasant to be her lover? [...] Who is she? Where does she come from? Have I encountered her before? I mean one and a half millennia earlier? Does she come from a noble Greek lineage, and did her great-grandmother have an affair with people from Asia Minor, Egypt or Mesopotamia?
  • 2 | B. Baert, Late Medieval Enclosed Gardens of the Low Countries. Contributions to Gender and Artistic Expression, Leuven 2016.
    During the Late Middle Ages a unique type of ‘mixed media’ recycled and remnant art arose in houses of religious women in the Low Countries: Enclosed Gardens. These are retables, sometimes with painted side panels, the central section filled not only with narrative sculpture, but also with all sorts of trinkets and hand-worked textiles. Adornments include relics, wax medallions, gemstones set in silver, pilgrimage souvenirs, parchment banderoles, flowers made from textiles with silk thread, semi-precious stones, pearls and quilling (a decorative technique using rolled paper). The ensemble is an impressive and one-of-a-kind display and presents as an intoxicating garden. In this essay the exceptional heritage of such Enclosed Gardens is interpreted from a range of approaches. The Enclosed Garden is studied as a symbol of paradise and mystical union, as the sanctuary of interiority, as the sublimation of the sensorium (in particular the sense of smell), as a typical gendered product, and as a centre of psycho-energetic creative processes.
  • 3 | B. Baert, ‘Locus Amoenus’ and the Sleeping Nymph. ‘Ekphrasis’, Silence and ‘Genius Loci’, Leuven 2016.
    In his late 15th century chronicle (ca. 1477-1484), Michael Fabricius Ferrarinus (died between 1488-1493), prior of the Carmelite cloister in Reggio Emilia, introduced the rumour that an ancient fountain had been found super ripam Danuvii (on the banks of the Danube) with the sculpted figure of a sleeping nymph. According to Ferrarinus, the fountain bore a peculiar epigram:
    Many scholars have discussed the impact of the rumour as creating a prototype for Renaissance sculptures of the sleeping nymph in Rome and for the development of the well-known genre of the sleeping Venus in painting. Building upon the previous studies, this essay contextualizes the phenomenon of the sleeping nymph and its textual and artistic Nachleben from the point of view of the locus amoenus as silence. This study combines iconological, aesthetical-philosophical and anthropological approaches, and contributes to a better understanding of sleep, voyeurism, water and silence within the context of the nymph’s particular genius loci.
  • 4 | B. Baert, Nymph. Motif, Phantom, Affect. Part II. Aby Warburg’s (1866-1929) Butterflies as Art Historical Paradigms, Leuven 2016.
    This essay, a meditation on the butterfly and its resonance in art history, is organized in three parts. I begin with Aby Warburg’s fascination with moths and butterflies as documented by (1) his letters to André Jolles (e.g. the letter from 1900 known as ‘But such high-flown movements are not for me’); (2) the Kreuzlingen pathological report and archives by Ludwig Binswanger (1881-1966) preserved in Tübingen; and (3) the Ninfa fiorentina file in the Warburg Institute. As Seelentierchen – soul animals, psyché – butterflies are archetypically connected to deep cultural affects regarding the soul, resurrection and immortality. Part 2 of the paper considers the butterfly as paradigm for the visual medium and the oculocentric paradigms in art history. Indeed, the butterfly has a specific visual (and sensory) impact on humankind with its flashy, quick, vibrant and hypnotic wings, its medusian eyes and its capability to camouflage itself (cfr. ‘Sciences diagonales’ by Roger Caillois, 1913-1978). Hypnosis, Medusa and camouflage are three important paradigms with which to consider the essence of the image as a dis/appearing, enchanting, and deceiving medium. In Part 3, the three paradigms become the basis for new reflections about art history (and the history of art history) as a study of the butterfly, in short, as ‘lepidopterology’.
  • 5 | B. Baert, Kairos or Occasion as Paradigm in the Visual Medium. “Nachleben”, Iconography, Hermeneutics, Leuven 2016.
    The meaning of tearing and splitting as a life-, love- and wisdom-generating event (for example, the tearing of the temple curtain) is profoundly rooted in the visual and literary ‘bodies’ of ancient and Christian thought. The primordial cosmogonic split is always sudden, is always sharp (like a knife), appears as a flash (sudden and all encompassing) and is experienced through the whole bodily sensorium (in shivering, bliss, sigh, wind, breath). The split is the epiphany of radical change, revolution and the transition beyond. The Greek deity Kairos embodies this mystery. The reach of Kairos can be detected in the theory of rhetoric (Sophists vs. Aristotle, 385-322 BC), in humanistic politics, in postmodern theology and in contemporary time-management. Iconographical studies have treated Kairos’s Nachleben in Byzantine and Latin visual traditions where the god is conflated with Fortuna and Occasio. This essay addresses the impact of Kairos and its iconographic Nachleben from a literary and historical perspective, and further considers Kairos as a new art historical paradigm. Indeed, Kairos can offer us alternative hermeneutics to reconceive the image as chronotopos, as epiphany and as intercession.
  • 6 | B. Baert, In Response to Echo. Beyond Mimesis or Dissolution as Scopic Regime (with Special Attention to Camouflage), Leuven 2016.
    In his Metamorphoses, Ovid (43 BC-AD 17) tells the story of Echo and Narcissus. Echo’s love for Narcissus ended in a cruel twist of fate. Already punished with an echo for a voice, the nymph suffered further as she petrified and her bones became stones. The study of art has long focused on the Narcissus-mirror syndrome as a paradigm for painting (Leon Battista Alberti, 1404-1472). Echo had no place in this masculine scopic discipline. Recent approaches have rehabilitated Echo from a visual, cultural and gendered point of view. Echo cries; she cries for an alternative to the mirror paradigm and oculocentrism. She helps us break free from Narcissus in favour of visual modalities such as dissolution, camouflage and contamination, in short, disappearance as an alternative to the scopic regime. In this essay I treat the impact of Echo on art history through the lenses of: gender, speech and hearing; Echo as textilisation and sacrifice; Echo as chthonic art; and, finally, Echo and le désir mimétique. With this approach, I develop a new hermeneutic to reintegrate the sonoric senses, camouflage theory, gender epistemology, and the anthropological substrata of nature, love and death into our Western obsession for mimetic thinking.
  • 7 | B. Baert, Revisiting Salome’s Dance in Medieval and Early Modern Iconology, Leuven 2016.
    Mark 6:14-29 and Matthew 14:1-12 recount the death of John the Baptist. Herod had him imprisoned for denouncing as incestuous his marriage to Herodias, the former wife of his brother. During a banquet, Herodias’ daughter dances before Herod, who is so enchanted that he promises her a favor. At her mother’s behest, she asks for the head of John the Baptist. The king honors her request and has the head delivered to her on a plate (in disco), which she gives to her mother. When the disciples of John discover about his death, they bury his headless body. In this essay I revisit the iconographic motif of the dancing girl from an interdisciplinary perspective involving exegesis, gender, anthropology, ritual performance, psycho-energetics, Pathosformeln and paragone.
  • 8 | J. Imorde, Carlo Dolci. A Refreshment, Leuven 2017.
    Carlo Dolci. A Refreshment revaluates the works of the Florentine painter Carlo Dolci. For art historical authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the name Dolci was used as a convenient epithet for mocking the sentimental style of the artist’s exclusively religious paintings. A seventeenth century audience, however, could still understand his ‘sweetness’ as an authentic expression of an old theological concept that went back to the Bible itself: the so-called Dulcedo dei, or sweetness of God. This study looks at Dolci’s reception throughout the centuries to show how it came to be that the theologically substantiated aesthetic of sweetness in Dolci’s œuvre fell out of favor and into oblivion.
  • 9 | A. Efal, Habitus as Method. Revisiting a Scholastic Theory of Art, Leuven 2017.
    Rather than being an event of an aesthetic, sublime or revelatory character, art can be rather understood simply as a habitual productive activity, taking an equal part in the design of quotidian reality as any other tool. The habitual approach to art carries with it several consequences regarding the understanding of the history of art and the theory of artistic production. This habitual approach has its origins in the Scholastic conception of the habitus of art, leaning on the Aristotelian definition of Poiesis. But the habitual approach had also its long history, passing through French Spiritualism in the 19th century, and several other stations in the 20th century.
    The essay follows Erwin Panofsky’s concept of “mental habit” as a methodological instrument in the history of art. After exposing the principles of a habitual approach to the history of art, the essay continues to follow Panofsky’s essay Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism, trying to trace what was Panofsky in fact conceiving under this term. In the conclusion, the essay suggests some guiding principles for conceiving of a habitus-oriented theory of art, energized by the scholastic approach to the habitus of art and by the method of habitus in the science of history.
  • 10 | B. Baert, About Stains or the Image as Residue, Leuven 2017.
    A stain is the evidence of something that was. It’s a trace. A stain may be something quite ordinary: the ink stain on my index finger; the mark of your fingers on this book. A stain may also be embarrassing: lipstick on a cheek; sweat rings under the arms; a bloody discharge. A stain may be forensically incriminating. A stain may be kept for sentimental reasons. Moreover, every stain has its own particular texture. Texture denotes the consistency of a surface and the sensory, often tactile imprint that is left on it. The stain may be absorbed in the thing that supports it; then again, it may stay on the surface, something separate. Every stain is unique. In this essay the author deals with seven factors that make the stain into a powerful model for rethinking the visual: the stain as prototype and prefiguration, the stain as relic, the stain of Veronica, the stain as a psycho-energetic symptom, the stain as pars pro toto for the womb, the stain and le désir mimétique and finally the stain as an image paradigm of the residue.
  • 11 | L. Silver, Rembrandt and the Divine, Leuven 2018.
    Because Dutch seventeenth-century painting is primarily known for its naturalism, representing the divine posed particular problems for painters of religious stories, especially Rembrandt. Indeed, if seeing is believing, then the visible presence of angels – and finally the presence on earth of Christ as the divine Incarnation in the flesh – could confirm to the senses the presence of divine providence in the world. Angels also evoke a sense of wonder in all who behold them, those who are blessed to receive their visitation from a watchful, if invisible God.
    Like John Calvin, Rembrandt carefully read his Bible. Thus his angels, represented traditionally as winged creatures, actively participate in important religious events, particularly in Old Testament scenes, beginning with Abraham. In later biblical history, however, angelic appearances diminish; both God – and angels as His agents – intervene less directly to interact with humankind. In Rembrandt’s art, angels are active and visible, but sometimes they reveal their identity just as they disappear, flying away. Other Rembrandt religious images convey divine presence only through light rays from above. With the New Testament advent of Christ, however, angelic attendants chiefly magnify the divine nature of Jesus in the world. Following the theology of John Calvin that dominated Dutch spirituality, Rembrandt allows his pious viewers to behold those very angels or, like Mary Magdalene and the apostles, even to view the divine nature of the risen Christ.
  • 12 | D. Bauer, Place-Text-Trace. The Fragility of the Spatial Image, Leuven 2018.
    The past was over, the future was not there yet and the present was a future past. Throughout the long nineteenth century, past and present had become traces and layers, burdened with an inescapable dimension of absence. Writers, scholars and architects, political theorists, artists, visitors of museums and exhibitions, the miller in Provence and the shepherd in the Landes, were facing a rapidly changing world. The present had become elusive and fragile. The past was irrevocably gone and other. In an initial context of loss, of dispersion and disconnection of lands, people, professions and things, new frameworks of meaning and imagination, of ‘presentification’, had to be found, tools of preservation, of restoration, of (re)establishment and vivification. Place and text become such tools.
    Against a concise background of comparative literature and contemporary philosophy on absence and presentification, this essay explores spatial images in French and Belgian nineteenth-century literature, especially in the work of Chateaubriand, Balzac, Rodenbach and Mistral. It is argued that the spatial image, as textual space and spatial text, and in the built environment, operates as a cultural subtext of presentification. Its disruptive nature, its own fragility and eventual self-fragmentation reveal the cultural ambiguities of the century’s tragic and grand strife to make the elusive present eternal, timeless, fixed, absenceless and complete in the age of traces.
  • 13 | B. Baert, What about Enthusiasm? A Rehabilitation. Pentecost, Pygmalion, ‘Pathosformel’, Leuven 2018.
    The word enthusiasm is derived from the Greek enthousiasmos and means being captivated by a god. Even today, we use ‘enthusiasm’ to describe a special energy that can suddenly overwhelm us: an emotional affect that holds the glow for the subject within oneself, and which radiates inspiration out to an audience. Yet, through the ages, the concept has not always carried with it the positive connotations it had in ancient Greece. Despite a few flickers on the cultural historical time line, enthusiasm has mostly been marginalised in modern Western philosophy: as an excessive urge or as a harmful exaggeration of emotions. In this essay, I work towards a rehabilitation of inspiration within intellectual thought. Is enthousiasmos the subject of any iconographic traditions? Is enthousiasmos also an aesthetic concept? And can enthousiasmos be part of an epistemology?
  • 14 | B. Baert, Fragments, S. Heremans ed., Leuven 2018.
    Fragments presents one hundred and ten entries – from Acheiropoieton to Zwischenraum – that explore new insights and observations for research and criticism in art history, iconology and cultural anthropology. It offers a unique anthology of Barbara Baert’s oeuvre. Each lemma bears the stamp of the author’s personality and work, sometimes in the form of an encompassing explanation, sometimes a brief experimental musing, illustrated by iconic artefacts.
    This extraordinary glossary leverages the power of interdisciplinary research in art and human sciences, and invites the reader to consider the beauty of these disciplines by embracing multiple genres.
  • 15 | H. Lamers, Afterlife of Antiquity. Anton Springer (1825-1891) on the Classical Tradition (forthcoming)
    This essay deals with the early history of the notion of an ‘afterlife of antiquity’ as a metaphor for thinking about antiquity’s continued presence in later periods. Nachleben der Antike is often associated with Aby Warburg and Renaissance art but was first applied to the classical tradition of the Middle Ages by the Czech-German historian Anton Heinrich Springer (1825-1891). His provocative essay on the subject, first published in 1862, is a very early attempt to emancipate the classical tradition from strait-laced classicism and to see it as a historical problem. Springer’s approach anticipated some important later trends in understanding antiquity’s continued presence and significance. Afterlife of Antiquity returns something of the original resonance to Springer’s idea and sheds light on its significance in the history of scholarship. Recognizing some of the theoretical tensions inherent in Springer’s discussion, the current work examines how the notion of an afterlife of antiquity was embedded in the author’s wider interest in artistic tradition and how he used it as a polemical concept targeting both anti-classicizing Romanticist and traditional humanist views of medieval culture. This issue of Studies in Iconology also includes the first English translation of Springer’s Das Nachleben der Antike im Mittelalter, a largely forgotten classic of humanities scholarship, read and admired by Aby Warburg and Erwin Panofsky.
English abstract

The volume Fragments by Barbara Baert presents one hundred and ten entries – from Acheiropoieton to Zwischenraum – that explore new insights and observations for research and criticism in art history, iconology and cultural anthropology. Each lemma bears the stamp of the author’s personality and work, sometimes in the form of an encompassing explanation, sometimes a brief experimental musing, illustrated by iconic artefacts. Fragments appeared as a celebratory volume in the peer-reviewed “Studies in Iconology” series, published at Peeters Publishers, of which Baert is the founder and editor-in-chief. The editorial series now includes fifteen volumes characterized by an interdisciplinary methodological approach aimed at deepening the understanding of the visual medium, alongside the history of mankind.

keywords | Barbara Baert, iconology, cultural anthropology, lemma, visual medium. 

To cite this article: B. Baert, S. Heremans, B. Baert, Fragments. Studies in Iconology. A presentation, “La Rivista di Engramma” n. 165, maggio 2019, pp. 101-108 | PDF of the article 

doi: https://doi.org/10.25432/1826-901X/2019.165.0008