Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

A Timeless Grammar of Iconoclasm?1

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

A Timeless Grammar of Iconoclasm?1

Article excerpt

A Timeless Grammar of Iconoclasm?1 Kristine Kolrud and Marina Prusac (eds), Iconoclasm From Antiquity to Modernity, Farnham: Ashgate, 2014, 248 pages, 29 b&w illustrations, hardback, ISBN 978-1-4094-7033-5, £60.00

Iconoclasm from Antiquity to Modernity is one of several recent contributions to scholarship on the subject of iconoclasm, deploying a particularly broad set of historical approaches that present 'different perspectives on the understanding of the term in relation to various episodes of image destruction'.2 The volume provides case studies from Antiquity to the early modern era, but also considers in its penultimate chapter how twentieth-century examples might shape our understandings of earlier iconoclastic traditions. The volume explores diverse methodologies and historical periods in a similar manner to Iconoclasm: contested objects, contested terms (eds Stacy Boldrick and Richard Clay), Negating the Image, case studies in iconoclasm (eds Anne McClanan and Jeffrey Johnson), and more recently, Striking Images, Iconoclasms Past and Present (eds Stacy Boldrick, Leslie Brubaker and Richard Clay). Seemingly, the publication of Iconoclasm from Antiquity to Modernity is the result of a conference held in 2009 at the University of Oslo. The editors, Kristine Kolrud - a research fellow in the History of Art at the Centre for Medieval Studies at Stockholm University, and Marina Prusac - an Associate Professor of Classical Archaeology, and Keeper of the Egypt and Antiquity Collections at the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, successfully present a cross-disciplinary volume about iconoclastic practices. While a wide range of examples and perspectives are explored, the editors point out that 'all of the contributors predominantly understand iconoclasm as the destruction or alteration of images or objects imbued with some kind of symbolic value'.3

The introduction to the volume notes that 'a central question is the distinction between iconoclasm and other forms of destruction' but, in referring to Dario Gamboni's work it is highlighted that 'the present volume is not so much a question of the boundaries between vandalism and iconoclasm as what kind of ideological motives or intentions may be said to pertain to iconoclastic attacks'.4 Gamboni is certainly mindful of the terms associated not only with 'iconoclasm' but also with regards to the objects whose physical treatment is under scrutiny, noting that 'we are required to be watchful of labels such as 'work of art', 'image', 'monument' or 'cultural object' given that such categories can be used 'as a means to claim or deny protection, to condemn or justify destruction'.5 Like Gamboni, in consideration of the terminology used to describe destruction, Richard Clay has demonstrated that 'vandalism' is too pejorative, suggesting that historians have increasingly opted to use 'iconoclasm' as a less loaded alternative. However, as Clay has noted, the term 'iconoclasm', nevertheless, 'constrains the field of study' with its focus on images (icons) and he suggests instead interpreting iconoclastic acts 'in terms of remaking and semiosis' and not just as breaking (clasm).6 The editors of Iconoclasm from Antiquity to Modernity make it clear that the term iconoclasm is, of course, subject to varied interpretations, particularly in different cultural traditions, but that the volume distinguishes itself from the more 'radical uses of the term', focusing on 'the actual or potential transformation of the object'.7 Like Gamboni, and, more recently, as explored by Jas Elsner, the contributors are concerned with the longue durée practices of iconoclasm.8 The volume 'attempts to shed new light on the term itself and related expressions, as well as how our understanding of the definition may change in accordance with contemporary events'.9

Louis Réau devised various categories of destruction, referring to the psychologie des vandales.10 However, as Clay has argued, Réau's observations and judgements regarding so-called vandalism were 'informed by modern discourses about art that identify objects belonging to that privileged category as deserving to be treated as if they were autonomous of struggles of the wider world'. …

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