The Genesis of Iconology

Critical Inquiry 38 (3):483-512 (2012)

Erwin Panofsky explicitly states that the first half of the opening chapter of Studies in Iconology—his landmark American publication of 1939—contains ‘the revised content of a methodological article published by the writer in 1932’, which is now translated for the first time in this issue of Critical Inquiry.1 That article, published in the philosophical journal Logos, is among his most important works. First, it marks the apogee of his series of philosophically reflective essays on how to do art history,2 that reach back, via a couple of major pieces on Alois Riegl, to the 1915 essay on Heinrich Wölfflin.3 Under the influence of his colleague at Hamburg Ernst Cassirer, the principal interpreter of Kant in the 1920s, Panofsky from 1915 on exhibits in his work ever more Kantian thinking and language.4 But Logos was not an art-historical review or one dedicated to aesthetics but a principal mainstream journal of the philosophy of culture. So ‘On the Problem of Describing and Interpreting Works of the Visual Arts’ has a good claim to be the culmination of Panofsky's philosophical thinking in his German period under the Weimar Republic. · 1. Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance , p. xv; hereafter abbreviated SI. See Panofsky, ‘Zum Problem der Beschreibung und Inhaltsdeutung von Werken der bildenden Kunst’, Logos 21 : 103–19; trans. Jaś Elsner and Katharina Lorenz under the title ‘On the Problem of Describing and Interpreting Works of the Visual Arts’, Critical Inquiry 38 : 467–82; hereafter abbreviated ‘P’.· 2. See the discussion in Carlo Ginzburg, ‘From Aby Warburg to E. H. Gombrich: A Problem of Method’, Myths, Emblems, Clues, trans. John and Anne C. Tedeschi , pp. 17–59, esp. pp. 36–41.· 3. See Panofsky, ‘Das Problem des Stils in der bildenden Kunst’, Deutschsprachige Aufsätze, ed. Karen Michels and Martin Warnke, 2 vols. , 2:1009–18; ‘Der Begriff des Kunstwollens’,Deutschsprachige Aufsätze, 2:1019–34, trans. Kenneth J. Northcott and Joel Snyder under the title ‘The Concept of Artistic Volition’, Critical Inquiry 8 : 17–33; and ‘Über das Verhältnis der Kunstgeschichte zur Kunsttheorie: Ein Beitrag zu der Erörterung über die Möglichkeit kunstwissenschaftlicher Grundbegriffe’, Deutschsprachige Aufsätze, 2: 1035–63, trans. Lorenz and Elsner under the title ‘On the Relationship of Art History and Art Theory: Towards the Possibility of a Fundamental System of Concepts for a Science of Art’, Critical Inquiry 35 : 43–71.· 4. On neo-Kantianism in pre-Nazi Germany, see Michael Friedman, A Parting of the Ways: Carnap, Cassirer, and Heidegger , pp. 25–37; Éric Dufour and T. Z. R. Créteil, ‘Le Statue du singulier: Kant et le néokantisme de l’École de Marbourg', Kantstudien 93 : 324–50; Edward Skidelsky, Ernst Cassirer: The Last Philosopher of Culture , pp. 22–51; and Peter E. Gordon, Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos , pp. 52–86. Specifically on the Cassirerian Kantianism of Panofsky, see Michael Podro, The Critical Historians of Art , pp. 181–82; Michael Ann Holly, Panofsky and the Foundations of Art History , pp. 91–92, 147–52; Silvia Ferretti, Cassirer, Panofsky, and Warburg: Symbol, Art, and History, trans. Richard Pierce , pp. 174–77, 182–84; David Summers, ‘Meaning in the Visual Arts as a Humanistic Discipline’, in Meaning in the Visual Arts: Views from the Outside, ed. Irving Lavin , pp. 9–24; Mark A. Cheetham, Kant, Art, and Art History: Moments of Discipline , pp. 68–77; Paul Crowther, The Transhistorical Image: Philosophizing Art and Its History , pp. 70–73; Allister Neher, ‘“The Concept of Kunstwollen”, Neo-Kantianism, and Erwin Panofsky's Early Art Theoretical Essays', Word and Image 20 : 41–51; Georges Didi-Huberman,Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art, trans. John Goodman , pp. 4–6, 90–138; and Lorenz and Elsner, ‘Translators’ Introduction', Critical Inquiry35 : 33–42, esp. pp. 38, 40–42
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