Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image

Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image

Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image

Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image

Synopsis

Michael Ann Holly asserts that historical interpretation of the pictorial arts is always the intellectual product of a dynamic exchange between past and present. recent theory emphasizes the subjectivity of the historian and the ways in which any interpretation betrays the presence of an interpreter. In Past Looking, she challenges that view, arguing that historical objects of representational art are actively engaged in prefiguring the kinds of histories that can be written about them. Holly directs her attention to early modern works of visual art and their rhetorical roles in legislating the kind of tales told bout them by a few classic cultural commentaries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Burckhardt's synchronic vision of the Italian Renaissance, W lfflin's exemplification of the Baroque, Schapiro's and Freud's dispute over the meanings of Leonardo's art, and Panofsky's exegesis of the disguised symbolism of Northern Renaissance painting.

Excerpt

Past Looking explores--sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally--the ways in which past works of art actually work at prefiguring the shape of their subsequent histories. It has become a commonplace in poststructuralist theory to argue that the interpretation always betrays the presence of the interpreter. While disputing neither the intellectual efficacy nor the ideological power of that perspective, this book uses poststructuralist revisions to return to the other side of the equation.

My focus is on early modern works of visual art and their rhetorical roles in seductively legislating the kinds of tales told about them by a few classic cultural histories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Burckhardt's synchronic history of the Italian Renaissance, Wölfflin's exemplification of the baroque, Panofsky's exegesis of disguised symbolism in northern Renaissance painting, Schapiro's and Freud's disagreement over the meaning of Leonardo's art, among others. the primary issue is one of a productive correspondence of rhetorical ideologies between image and text. I argue by way of specific historical examples that representational practices encoded in works of art continue to be encoded in their commentaries. Holding fast to the conviction that we can consider this question of reciprocity between work of art and historian only in the wake of poststructuralist reconsiderations of the relationship between objecthood and subjectivity, I explore in the first and last chapters a range of contemporary theoretical perspec-

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