Images at Work
edited by Ittai Weinryb, Hannah Baader, and Gerhard Wolf
According to legend, the poet Virgil made a fly out of bronze and perched it above the gates of Naples. The fly's sole purpose was to prevent other flies from entering the city. This Representations special issue explores the intention, function, and reception of images like Virgil's fly: images made to influence the natural world. The essays collected here examine the theories behind the construction of these operative images, question the way the production of apotropaic images related to the production of art, and consider how such working images helped to fashion a world.
The aim of the volume is to find the connection between historical moments and theories relating to efficacy as ascribed to objects or things. Each essay included does this a little differently: from Finbarr B. Flood's thinking about the anthropomorphic eye and hand patterns in medieval Iran to Persis Berlekamp's illumination of the protective dragons of 13th-century Syria, and from Tanja Klemm's explication of Renaissance medical iconography to Christopher Wood's theorizing on the artwork's paradoxical lack in the face of anthropomorphism, and finally, in the last essay, to Gerhard Wolf's witty engagement with thing theory and the material turn. Together these essays analyze the material artifact in light of historical circumstance, and the historical circumstance is in turn illuminated by the artifact.
Contributions to the volume both reflect and respond to recent shifts among art historians and anthropologists in the historical understanding of the material object, building on and furthering debates begun by David Freedberg, Jane Bennett, Horst Bredekamp, Lorraine Daston, Alfred Gell, Bruno Latour, and others. Notable contributors include guest editor Gerhard Wolf, Director of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, and Finbarr B. Flood, Professor of the Humanities at New York University and author of the prize-winning Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval "Hindu-Muslim" Encounter.