Studia IV

THE VIRTUES AND SERVITUDES OF ICONOLOGY

The essays Erwin Panofsky published in 1955 in the volume Meaning in the Visual Arts (issued in Romanian by the Meridiane Publishing House in 1980) provide the best illustration of the virtues and servitudes of iconology, urging those who practice the method to try and overcome the servitudes by a greater sense of reality in applying it. We tried to do it ourselves in the book Artă şi arheologie dacică şi romană (Dacian and Roman Art and Archeology), Bucharest, 1982, being convinced that any method must be flexible and adjust to the object of the research and not the other way round. Now, after some more general or particular considerations aimed at justifying the title, we will dwell on two essays: Et in Arcadia ego; Poussin and the Elegiac Tradition and Titian. The Allegory of Prudence.

Trained in the spirit of the Marburg School's neo-Kantian accuracy, under Ernst Cassirer, Panofsky - who published in a volume dedicated to Cassirer the study which was then revised and included in the 1955 volume by the title Et in Arcadia ego; Poussin and the Elegiac Tradition - considers, like his professor, that the universe of culture and art is a world in itself that implicitly represents man's means of adjustment to the environment in the form of a symbolic system, specific to it, situated between the receiver system and the motor one, which are common to all animals.

Conceived at Princeton in 1955, in the form presented to the Romanian reader, Panofsky's book is a "book" owing to the spirit shared by the studies it contains; their apparent diversity and disparity act only as an invitation to reading. This volume actually represents a discourse on method, with examples. As a student, researcher and professor, Panofsky realized how important the method was not only in the world of ideas but also, and particularly, in the one of images, where the chaos of dilettantism stalks anyone who steps on the narrow bridge of investigation related to the history of art. It is not the quantity of information accumulated - ­always insufficient (it goes without saying that the theoretical and factual basis of this discipline is assumed to be assimilated) - that helps the arts historian achieve progress and efficiency, but the skill resulting notably from familiarization with the fields of the spirit, which we generally call the science of seeing. Only then does erudition become revealing, and God shows himself in a detail, as Panofsky liked to say, quoting Flaubert. Only then does the tree of knowledge - grafted with the capability of understanding the various manifestations of the soul, its perennial data and its permanently renewed expressions - bear the fruit of that humanitas. That is why Cicero considered the orator had to have comprehensive knowledge, not in the encyclopedic sense but meaning a capacity of understanding, a science of seeing what lies in all the nooks and crannies of the human.

As a discourse on method, Panofsky's book discusses humanism in the first place. There is no need for us to recall how much and in which way humanism has been discussed in the last fifty years. Panofsky himself was a victim of this situation, adding to the millions of victims silenced for ever, most of whom did not even know what humanism meant and would not have believed, had they been told, that they were the anonymous pawns whose quantitative destruction aimed at the qualitative annihilation of humanism.

But even today, against the background of a civilization that produces goods and is great at physically and morally consuming them, in the decades when for the bodily moral weaknesses of so many people medicines, drugs of the besotting sectarianism of "redemption religions" - associated with the brutifying mysteries of the absolution from the fear of loneliness - ­can be bought, many people still wonder: "What is humanism good for?", "How is it administrated?", and especially "What is its effect?"Because in this respect the undesirable, omniscient usurers and druggists of souls are peerless when it comes to processing, dozing and taxing the essential virtues of humanism which they dole out to the masses with a concern for their participation in culture which is surpassed only by their Orwellian fear that the masses would realize how frustrated they are by the most recent, most profitable, most total and pernicious trade in the history of human spirit.

R. Bianchi Bandinelli was right when, in his twofold position as historian of ancient art and director of the A. Gramsci centre of Marxist studies in Rome, he remarked: "Without clearly realizing the importance of the fact, we still realize that the technological civilization in which we live, the consumption civilization as it is called, the mass civilization whose assertion poses so many difficult problems, needs, for the coordination of its very impulses, a rationalizing element completing it and making it indeed a living and viable culture. This rationalizing element is history" (Dall'ellenismo al medioevo, Rome, 1978, p. 19).

Indeed, the pivot of humanism is history, and the approach of humanism is achieved not in the perspective of eternity but in the one of historism. Panofsky tells us, unwillingly paraphrasing the disturbing image of Balthazar Gracian's reverse time scale, that nothing is less real than the present moment (which we cannot know instantly in its entireness), more unreal than the future which we don't know at all and more real than the past on which we can dwell in order to exercize our cognitive faculty. Therefore why are we interested in the past? Because we are interested in reality. Modern man's alienation from his own history is in fact his harmful separation from the condition of man, the dangerous renunciation of that symbolic system of culture which mediates contacts with the surrounding nature. The human aspiration and ideals, that purpose of individual and social existence are fulfilled in the framework of this cultural cosmos - equally rational and affective - ­that we call humanism. The Faustian wish to possess the petrified moment, to totally consume the present, the desire to exhaustively assimilate its reality is a mystique of the demonical incompatible with the reason-affect dialectic and binomial, a mystique of the Nietzschean Dionysiac that permanently reminds of the always open chasm of chaos.

Panofsky approaches the very hot issue of the relationship between humanism or social sciences and the exact sciences. Whereas the latter set out to transform the chaotic variety of natural phenomena into a cosmos of nature, the social sciences aim at turning the huge, chaotic variety of testimonies left by people along the millennia into a cosmos of culture. The scientist observes the phenomena by using instruments; the instruments of the humanist in investigating and organizing the cultural cosmos are the documents. In the last fifty years, however, the exact sciences have managed to revise several times their view of the cosmos of nature (Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions), while in the same period technology has progressed geometrically.

The atomic physicists of Heisenberg's generation (Werner Heisenberg. Steps across Borders), the last to have had the experience of the humanist college, perfectly learning Latin and Greek and reading Platon in the original in order to find how profound his thinking on the natural universe was (with the known exceptions), represented the best synthesis between the two fields of contemporary spirituality, increasingly alien to each other as they were.

The excessive specialization imposed by modern technology, by the law of maximum productivity came back from America to Europe, wherefrom it had been imported in its budding form, and the wave of this necessity also reached the humanistic discipline. Obviously, the possibilities of investigating and knowing the cultural cosmos have grown quantitatively. But have they grown also qualitatively, in a field where the most adequate knowledge starts from the quantity of facts but perceivably tends toward re-creation? How useful can the computer be beyond the sum of facts? How can a machine be programmed to simulate creation when its translation into fact is totally a rational-affective probability, and the reception and investigation of the work presupposes a re-living of this process?

We are now in an epoch - who knows how long - of remodelling our thinking of nature and the phenomenology of spirit. If computerized scientific "gossip" is no concern of ours (an epigraphist introduced in a computer the encoded form of Greek letters characteristic of a certain period only to notice that the inscriptions in similar letters were from the same period; thus, like Mr. Jourdain, he learned that he was unknowingly making prose!), it is no less true that the problem outlined above is real and serious. It is serious because, fatally, unless earnest collective efforts at thinking and will are made, spirit will be deprived of its other half at the same speed as the geometric progression of technology and the consumption civilization.

Panofsky observed the effects of the phenomenon on the American humanistic education, not to speak of the general medium-level education in the frame of which the classes set aside for exact science already held 80 per cent of the programme. He also quotes Robert Bunsen's apothegmatic remark, in order to illustrate the danger realized by a prominent physicist of the past century: "Do you think that by teaching a child only mathematics you will train a great mathematician? No, only an idiot! On the contrary, the best means of training a young mind is a Latin grammar course."

From the theoretical part of Panofsky's book we understand that the equilibrium of the present and future culture depends not on the establishment of a common language of a mathematical nature, but on convergence between the mathematical and philosophical-humanistic languages.

Such a convergence would have to be served by scientists and not technologists, theorists and not practitioners no matter how specialized the latter were. An ever more widespread and tendentious confusion is being made between scientists (humanists and "naturalists") and specialists (a relationship Panofsky identified between art historians and museology specialists), by virtue of the above-mentioned wave which is not only a fashion of our civilization but a dangerous reality.

Positive attempts to make the language converge have been made, with propaedeutic rather than paradigmatic results, in logic, linguistics, information science; yet they have aimed mainly at facts and not at the essence of these fields. The gist of the cosmos of culture is paideia, the system of learning, and pietas, the respect of culture, for human creation. Pietas and paideia are to Panofsky the pillars of humanism. Paideia (a notion introduced by the homonymous title of Werner Jaeger's book, Berlin, 1934, which refers to the Greek civilization), in a humanistic sense, is a triptych made up of mimesis (imitation), poiesis (creation) and katharsis (purification). The artist, the receiver of the art work and its exegete create or recreate and purify themselves at the same time.

The mentioned triptych is the binder of the cultural cosmos. Any human manifestation inside it implies all the three aspects, and the nature of this manifestation decides which of the terms prevails.

Centuries before Gabriel de Tarde, Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1st century B.C.) extended the concept of imitation (mimesis) to the whole sphere of culture. Paideia, in its cultural ­social acceptation, is the imitation of previous accumulations, is an interpretational creation, a "tension which reproductively remodels the principles of a paradigm". Theoretically fundamented, this way is the unity of the cultural cosmos, the continuity of traditions as well as the full integration of "innovations" that emerge in the process of remodelling the principles of paradigms or simply as a change of the paradigms themselves. But on this matter we shall dwell later.

Therefore the humanistic paideia equally presupposes un-learning and re-Iearning. The convergence of languages could therefore be fully achieved on the basis of knowledge of the basic paradigms, by reproductively remodelling the principles of paradigms that conspicuously define the specifity of the whole contemporary cultural cosmos, the spiritual matrix of the human civilization in which mankind's ages-old acquisitions are encoded, in a historical and causal chain.

That is why we believe Panofsky is right when he sees in history the all-time rationalizing element (we are using Bianchi Bandinelli's phrase) of humanism, mentioning - in order to stress this idea - an excerpt from a letter written by Marsilio Ficino to Giacomo Bracciolini: "History is necessary not only in order to make life pleasant but also in order to provide it with a moral criterion. Thanks to history, mortal things acquire immortality, past things become eternally present, old things - always new, young people thus acquiring the wisdom of elderly people."

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Here below we will dwell on some particular problems posed by the studies in the theoretical part of the work, studies which actually nuance and bring more ideas into this part whose consistency does not reside exclusively in the number of pages (Introduction and Epilogue) but which draws its sap from all the ideas in the volume.

We, too, should stress once again the author's warning that the most comprehensive of these studies were not revised while only a general bibliography was updated (1955). Therefore our remarks will not be completive but exegetic, addressing the reader of these texts which became classic in the author's lifetime, to the end of highlighting some topical aspects of this problem area or the permanence of Panofsky's historical thinking.

Today iconology is increasingly viewed as a general historical discipline and not only as one referring to the Renaissance, the Modern Age or exclusively to the history of art. Actually, the germs of iconology's principles can be traced in the work of a classicist, Eduard Gerhard (1795-1867); these principles are concisely formulated in the sentence: monumentorum artis qui unum vidit nullum vidit, qui mille vidit, unum vidit (he who has seen only one of art's monuments has seen nothing, he who has seen one thousand has barely seen one).

The foremost and sensitive instrument of iconology is the synthetic intuition; it is the methodological outcome of the active scholarliness that fertilizes the field of investigative imagination.

At the head of his book on Roman art, Bianchi Bandinelli emblematically put an excerpt from Montaigne's essays: "there is every reason to say that there exists an elementary ignorance that precedes science and another one, a doctoral one, which follows science and which science itself engenders at the same time as it kills the former." (I, 54).

All exemplifying studies in Art and Significance methodologically pursue a superior form of research designed to make a museum exhibit of the doctoral ignorance thoroughly built on volumes badly read or badly written, marred by some exegetic habits rooted in the classroom and accounting for the widening of the gap between humanism and the exact sciences, the gap hypocritically deplored precisely by the doctoral lack of talent.

I can say I have applied the method of iconology in an arid field, Geto-Dacian numismatics, a field that had been at a standstill because for over half a century exegetic paradigms had been used which had been outrun by the factual material itself. The results were unexpected, the method accepting and even dictating accuracy. Confirmation of its applicability came a few years later when a French research scholar, J.B. Colbert de Beaulieu (Traité de numismatique celtique. I. Méthodologie des ensembles, Paris, 1973), obtained the same kind of novel information from the interpretation of coins minted by the Celtic tribes in the West of Europe.

It goes without saying that the iconographic analysis, as a stage preceding the iconographic interpretation, has its limits. They are imposed, among other things, by the natural positions of all people at the moment they carry on the same actions. Here is, for instance, a bowman: he can use his bow while standing, left foot ahead, or while lunging, or putting his right knee on the ground. Shooting the bow from a kneeling position is represented on Persian coins picturing the Great king with the bow, the spear and the crown, on the silver tetradrachms (5th c. B.C.) of the island of Tasos, although it was equally common with Middle Ages bowmen as shooting from a standing position was. Obviously, none of this postures can constitute the criterion of an iconographic filiation. The problem is to distinguish between the natural position and the "cliché".

The basic principles of classical European figurative art have been the same since Antiquity. This is why Panofsky attaches a special importance to the theory regarding the proportions of the human body. He is the first to demonstrate the anthropometric character of the Polyclitean canon, unlike the Egyptian canon that encoded the proportions of a statue, not of a living body seen in motion (therefore implying limits within which the measures of the parts may vary in relation to the whole).

In the Greek conception, the canon is a particular, applicative case of the paradigm. We notice that from the humanistic disciplines it is the theory of art that has the initiative not only of nominalizing but also of creating this concept which the philosophy of positive sciences took over as an acquisition of the spirituality of our epoch. As early as 1924, Panofsky used in the Introduction to The Idea the term of paradigm meaning model, prototype, referring to a text from Platon (The State, 501 B) where­ - what an amazing coincidence! - the Athenian philosopher proposed, for the legislative activity of the law-maker of his ideal city, the example (paradigm) of some plastic artists who had tried to achieve "the idea" in their work.

We should go deeper and generalize the concept of paradigm in order to use it as an instrument in achieving the cosmos of culture.

With Platon - and only to a certain extent with Aristotle - the parádeigma has the meaning of an ideational model within the theory of mimesis. The paradigm is the unmaterialized ideal prototype artists transpose in their work (we use, like Panofsky in The Idea the name of poietics or heuristics which is suggested by Platon's language) who are the most faithful to the reality of "ideas", the ones whom Platon admitted to his aseptic imaginary state.

The Platonic paradigm was absolute (The State, 472 D, 500 E, 501 B, 592 B; Timaios, 28 C), impossible to surpass by the material reality even with respect to only one of its parts. In this sense, Platon's theory of the paradigm in the framework of his aesthetics is something that emerged quite late in his thinking (in his early works or even in those written when he was a mature creator, when referring to painting in particular, Platon considered imitation as very close to the way it was viewed by Aristotle, that is as having material and not ideal models) and, in general, in the Greek thinking on art.

The implication of the Pythagorean thinking on the pure, mathematically structured beauty are obvious in the Platonic concept of the paradigm. Actually, the archaic Greek plastic art confirms the ideational existence of a poietic paradigm (implied in the "creation" of the work of art). The paradigm could be constructed on the basis of observation of the spatial relations exterior to the arts or on the basis of his own inner outlook (hórasis) on space (The State, 537 C).

With Platon the paradigm concept seems to evince also an Eleatic reminiscence which leads to its nuancing and, at the same time, to a more marked contour. This is the notion of matrix, in Ion Banu's acceptation (Platon the Heraclitean, Bucharest, 1972, pp. 131-­138), which we equate with the model subjected to achievement (tò gennetòn parádeigma). This is the text from Timaios (28 C): "if the craftsman permanently looks to what is similar with what he does, using such a paradigm, he will achieve the idea and the attribute (dynamis) of that thing which will thus be fully and necessarily beautifully achieved; if he looks to an already achieved thing (gegonós), similar to his own, using a model subjected to achievement (by the very fact that it has a material consistence which the artist can copy, the copy never being identical to the model - we add) he will not achieve a beautiful thing."

It clearly emerges that the paradigm is the ideal model which, in the case of imitation (of "creation"), dictates the structure of the work of art. This structure is closely related to the epoch's outlook on the cosmos of nature. The archaic poietic paradigm has a prevailing cosmogonic value. As far as the Greek archaism is concerned, one cannot speak of the style of a work but of the style of a culture as illustrated by plastic works. Chronologically, the canon of Polictetus is the ultimate expression of the archaic poietic paradigm.

In order to increase the instruments our science can use in order to see, we must add to the poietic paradigm concept (the paradigm of the "creation" of the work of art) the concept of the aesthetic paradigm (the reception of the work of art according to models specific to the human eye). Beginning in the 4th century B.C., the aesthetic visual paradigm becomes much more important in plastic arts than the poietic one. That was the time when the tridimensional is aesthetically speculated in statuaries and its formal canons multiply. The transition from the poietic paradigm to the aesthetic one is also the result of a change of outlook on the universe itself, of a shift from the Eleatic monadic immobilism to the epoch of the Sophists, of Socrates and Platon.

The Socratic and post-Socratic philosophy gives pride of place to becoming, assigning a teleological significance to the cosmos. Now the volumes of the human body manifest, through their fractionation, the possibility of motion not yet seized in the act, as it would be recorded by the late classicism and the exuberance of tridimensionality in the Hellenistic epoch.

The aesthetic paradigm, a paradigm of the reception (a visual model of the reception), is illustrated by Lysippus: "so far people have been represented the way they are, but I represent them as they seem to be." Its existence is confirmed also by the optical corrections applied to the limbs of statues, to the upper parts of the colossal statues, to the sculpture on the pediments of temples, and even to the various elements of such edifices (the entasis of columns, the curvature of the stylobate, the declivity and spacing of columns, their number depending on the height of the temple, etc.).

As far as the research of the artwork is concerned, a number of visual paradigms intervene here too. We may say that iconology is the science of exegetic visual paradigms. If Panofsky saw in paideia the essence of the cosmos of culture, and we subsumed to this notion the consultative triptych mimesis, poiesis, katharsis (imitation, creation, purification), we tried at the same time to show (starting from several particular cases that lie at the origin of our civilization's plastic experiences) that any work of art necessarily implies a visual paradigmatic triptych that is symmetrical and complementary to the former (the paradigms of creation, reception and exegesis of the artistic creation).

Panofsky was a great master building many exegetic visual paradigms. The studies included in Art and Significance are brilliant examples illustrating this assertion.

Alone a thorough knowledge of the iconographic sources, a perfect familiarization with the themes and concepts of an epoch, alone a synthetic intuition depending in its turn on the researcher's cultivated talent can lead to solid results in the field of iconology as a general discipline of history. And only such solid results can remove the false exegetic paradigms, contributing to organizing the humanist universe more and more adequately and truthfully.

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A telling example is the one of the study Et in Arcadia ego: Poussin and the Elegiac Tradition. I believe that most of those (including myself) who used the adage et in Arcadia ego translated it as "I too lived in Arcadia", interpreting it as a nostalgic feeling for the good times and beautiful places where they had once lived, like in the idyllic Arcadia. At the time of the classical Antiquity, Arcadia was a not very attractive land in the centre of the Peloponnesus. The prevailing mountainous features created small valleys with a cold climate but not deprived of fertility, watered by the Alpheus and its tributaries. Many small depressions are closed and the waters drain from the heights through natural tunnels, flowing into lakes (Feneus, Stymphalos) or creating marshes. Among the gods, Pan is the one considered to be of Arcadian origin, given the pastoral character of the places. That is why Vergil placed in Arcadia his utopian earthly paradise that served as a setting for the tenth eclogue of his Bucolics. It was also in Arcadia that Daphnis died of love, in the fifth eclogue.

The Antiquity did not resume the theme of the death of Daphnis in Arcadia. Only one representation of personified Arcadia is known; the one the fresco with Hercules and Telephos in the basilica at Herculanum, a representation that provided inspiration to Ingres for the portrait of Madame de Moitessier, the National Gallery, London. From Vergil's eclogues the modern Age preserved only the paradisiacal significance of Arcadia.

In this sense, Arcadia became a literary tópos. Schiller begins his poem Resignation with the words: Auch ich war in Arkadien geboren, which Eminescu translated into Romanian as Şi eu născui în sânul Arcadiei (I too was born in Arcadia's cradle). Goethe used the phrase turned adage et in Arcadia ego as a motto to his book Journey to Italy (and used it again, in the same sense, in Faust, see Panofsky, note 52), while the Romanian writer Alexandru Odobescu mentions the same epigraph in the first pages of chapter I in Pseudo-Kynegetikos ("But I too grew up in the Baragan plain. Et in Arcadia ego... and I too saw the bevies of bustards..."). Finally, the Romanian poet George Coşbuc ended the poem Atque nos! with the lines: Şi-mi vine să-mi înalţ fruntea şi s-o scutur veselos/Şi să strig în lumea largă: "Et in Arcadia nos!" In Latin Proverbs and Adages, Bucharest, 1976, ed. V.D. Diaconu and M. Marinescu-Himu, Et in Arcadia ego is listed under "Happiness", the note reading that "it shows the fickleness of happiness."

It seems that in the 17th and 18th centuries, painters (Giovanni Francesco Guercino, Nicolas Poussin, Giovanni Battista Cipriani, Sir Joshua Reynolds) and kings (George III of Great Britain) had a solid classical education, the former of an iconographic nature and the latter, without doubt, of a bookish nature. What is certain is that the sovereign of Great Britain looked at Reynolds' painting and "read" it correctly: "Oh, does death exist in Arcadia too?"; but Flaubert, who saw a gravestone inscribed In Arcadia ego, qualified the inscription a nonsense. Thanks to Panofsky's brilliant demonstration, the traditional exegetic paradigm according to which Et in Arcadia ego meant the (lost) happiness, is remodelled in the spirit of the true significance of the adage: "Also in Arcadia I (death) (exist)."

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Like the written documents, the iconographic ones too have their informative limits, no matter how much erudition, accuracy and inventiveness were put in exhausting them. In connection with Titian's Allegory of Prudence, Panofsky spares no effort and neglects no source deserving to be researched. And yet doubt still persists as to the identity of two of the three male heads and as to their significance, although the illustrious scholar's interpretation has been accepted and no new one has replaced it so far. Panofsky himself recognizes that the profile on the left of the painting belonging to the Howard Collection (now at the National Gallery in London, to which it was donated in 1966 by D. Koetser), supposedly representing Titian's distant relative Marco Vecelli, is not identical to Marco Vecelli's face in the painting Mater Misericordiae (Pitti Palace, Florence).

The differences are glaring (certainly not connected to the presence or absence of a moustache) and pertain to the physiognomic structure of the two heads. The profile in the Howard Collection has a massive, angular jaw, a big chin, a well-cut nose with big nostrils, big, round eyes and eyebrows with a marked inner contour; the character bearing an armour (Marco Vecelli) in Mater Misericordiae has an arched jaw, a small and round chin, long and delicate nose and the eyes are almond-shaped, with thick arched eyebrows extending toward the temple.

No doubt exists about the head of old Tititan which is authenticated by the self-portrait at the Prado. The central portrait in the forefront of the Howard Collection painting enjoys the artist's full attention.

It seems that the resemblance with Orazio Vecelli, the great maestro's pious and trustworthy son, whose profile is painted in Mater Misericordiae, cannot be called into question. The inscription Ex praeterito/praesens prudenter agit/ ne futura actione deturpet (from what it learned from the past/the present acts cautiously/so as not to spoil by deed the future things) is placed above the old head on the left, the mature one in the centre and the young one on the right. Its being read from left to right indicated the order of the three profiles, and this fact provides the logical reason for Panofsky's interpretation: the old Titian, the son Orazio Vecelli, and the distant relative Marco Vecelli.

Besides the physiognomic differences perceived in the case of the latter in comparison with his portrait in Mater Misericordiae, Panofsky's lesson on The Allegory of Prudence should answer several questions: 1) Why does old Titian's head, which is sketched like a shadow (Panofsky explains why) and which is quasisynchronic with the self-portrait at the Prado, differ nevertheless from this one in several details (to the extent they can be discerned), the same as it differs from the artist's portrait in Mater Misericordiae? 2) The features of the young head and the mature head are identical down to the smallest detail (jaw, chin, the lower and upper lips forming a slightly protruding mouth, the nose, the eyes, the forehead with the incipient lateral baldness and, finally, the short curly hair). Could a distant relative of the maestro be the very image of his son, although there is a considerable age difference between them? (In Mater Misericordiae Marco's hair is as dark as Orazio's, whereas in the Allegory of Prudence it is lighter). 3) The three men's portraits in the Allegory of Prudence all have the same height and, as far as we can see, the same width and the same facial features. Couldn't they possible represent one and the same person, that is, the artist, young, mature and old?

In this case the caption and the way it is placed would be meaningless or the meaning would be different from the one demonstrated by Panofsky. It is certain that neither Titian nor Panofsky seem to have remembered a well-known adage from Gesta romanorum: Quidquid agis, prudentar agas et respice finem. (Whatever you do, do it cautiously, thinking of the end). If the meaning were extended to the conduct of a lifetime, the proverb would mean: think of old age which, being helpless, must be protected by the battlements of deeds accomplished in one's prime. Or, here is another interpretation: prudence is necessary at any age. But, reverting to the caption inscribed in the upper part of the painting The Allegory of Prudence, how could the past be represented other than by an old man, the present other than by a mature man, and the future other than by a young man? The old man resembles Titian, but he could have looked even more like him had Titian achieved his painting when he was in his nineties. The portrait in the forefront may well be Titian's self-portrait at the age when he did the painting (at 45), and the head on the leaft may well be the artist's image of himself in old age, the same as the head on the right may be the representation of the artist's memory of his looks as a young man.

The painting in the Howard Collection thus reveals three levels of the allegory: a zoomorphic one, an anthropomorphic one and apothegmatic one (unlike the two levels discerned by Panofsky). The first and third levels have a maximal generality (an iconographic generality in the case of the former and a proverbial one for the latter). The intermediate level, besides its general - symbolic meaning, also implies a particularization of the life and person of Titian himself.

Panofsky considered the third (apothegmatic) level of the allegory as being only an explanation of the anthropomorphic level, understood by him as having an exclusively particularizing value.

This fact led him to the known interpretation (Titian, Orazio Vecelli and Marco Vecelli) which however does not answer the questions we asked above. If the lesson we propose will prove pertinent, then the painting under scrutiny is the work of Titian's maturity.

In support of our interpretation, we will specify the following: 1) Mater Misericordiae originates in the studio of Titian to whom it was commissioned by the duke of Urbino in 1573, but it was actually painted by the maestro's collaborators, including Marco Vecelli who made his self-portrait (Francesco Valcanover, Titian, Paris, 1970). 2) The problem of this Marco's position in the maestro's artistic lineage remains open, as his last painting, a Pieta harbored by the Academy in Venice (painted between 1570 and 1576), begun by Titian but finished by his followers, has in its lower left corner an inset representing Titian and Orazio praying to the Virgin. Marco's portrait is not present in this inset, although it should have been there if The Allegory of Prudence (1565) had designated him as secundus succesionis. 3) The physiognomic features of the head at the centre of the Allegory are identical to those of Titian's sole self-portrait which is a front-looking one: the painting in Berlin, achieved in 1562, therefore five years before the Prado self-portrait; the painting in Berlin highlights again the imaginary character of the profile on the left to The Allegory of Prudence. 4) If, as Panofsky states, Titian's head in the Allegory is faded, and since the past is deprived of reality and the future (Marco Vecelli) is slightly dimmed by the excessive light in which it is presented because it, too, is unreal, then there disappears the very connection he proposes between the caption and the three heads. How can the present act cautiously from the experience of the past when the very possessor of this experience (Titian) would reject it, blurring himself? How could the future be unreal when in fact the future, too, is present, embodied in the person of Marco Vecelli, aged 20 something, therefore in his prime? Doesn't Panofsky's interpretation run counter to his own convictions about the reality of the past, of history, in support of which he cited the testimony of an illustrious Renaissance figure, the letter of Marsilio Ficino we have mentioned above?

In conclusion, our opinion is that this very scholarly essay pertinently illustrates the servitudes of iconology precisely by the excessive erudition (Cerberus or some other three-headed monster, as symbol of prudence) which can make the exegete stray from the real sense. We all know only too well that anything can be demonstrated if one has vast information at hand. This does not mean that iconology is a programmatic sophistry. The legitimate question anyone may ask is whether Titian was as learned as Panofsky. Certainly not! None of the artists in the analysis of whose works iconologists put the virtuosity and beauty of a mathematical demonstration was as learned as them. Unfortunately, Aby Warburg imagined this when on the verge of losing his mind while observing the cosmological significances of the "Calendar" at the Schifanoia palace in Ferrara. In Antiquity, just as in the Middle Ages, artists worked from models which they combined thematically, fulfilling the order they had received, without bothering too much about subtleties they or the commissioners knew nothing about.

Therefore Titian did not paint an Allegory of Prudence, a lathe biósas (living in hiding) of a stoical nature, but he simply presented himself as a being not derived of the prudence of the young wolf, the mature lion and the old wolf (insinuating a zoo­anthropomorphic physiognomy), throughout the life, from the vantage of its middle.

Appearing in the lower register is not a three-headed monster but the fabulistic correspondences of man's three ages, in general, exemplified with his self-portraits in the intermediate register and confirmed by the adage of a stoical nature in the upper register. That and no more is what Titian wanted! The rest belongs with Panofsky's gushing erudition.

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