Almost an Image. Identity and Difference in Painting

Philipp Kaspar Heimann

Jacapo da Pontormo, Heimsuchung, um 1528-29, Öl auf Holz, 202 x 156 cm, Pfarrkirche San Michele, Carmignano

Terms of production and reception or analogies are often invoked when the “identity” of an image is discussed; the image is placed in relation to predetermined identities, to which it can often only react and whose repetition renders the image usable. By contrast, this thesis takes a closer look at tendencies and structures of the pictorial to redefine the relationship between image and identity. This can only be achieved if not only pictorial and extra-pictorial differences are exploited, but if the image itself is focused on as a twofold unity. A critical examination of the discipline can uncover when and to what end the identity of the image has been dealt with in art history. This also raises the question of whether an overloading of meaning or a critique of the image was attempted in these reflections of image theory. It is therefore fundamental to problematize the complex genesis of the concept of identity, which is once again becoming a fiercely contested topic in current social and academic discourses. Concrete examples of European painting history, in which the structure of identity and image was negotiated in all its complexity and contradictoriness, link the theoretical with a phenomenological perspective. Thus, a historical continuity of the structure can be identified, which is not at all a phenomenon of modernity. The image analyses rather show that images do not so much repeat identities as transcend them. Visual works thus present themselves as etho-aesthetic vehicles that, by virtue of their fragility, reconfigure the relationship between identity and difference. In this manner, identity can be thought of as a "singular-plural" (Jean-Luc Nancy) intimacy of the image, which in this folding allows it to almost become an image. This "almost" does not refer to a lack in the technical sense, but rather makes possible the aesthetic and political experience of an image.


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