Since amending my first set of aims and objectives, one of the main things I have been doing is building up a large database of found advertisements. Some online but mostly print as it links a little closer to the process that Berger (2008) laid out.
Now that I have a rather large collection of images I am able to go through them and see if I can initially see any links to historical paintings, although to be honest I probably did this as soon as I found the ads. The best example I found supports Berger’s points wonderfully, as initially when you look at the ad and the painting side by side you can already see the similarities. However if I was to really deconstruct the images I would need to subject the image to the Iconographic process to learn everything I can about the image and its meanings to then see if they match up with the advert once it has been deconstructed using semiotics.
So the first phase is to establish everything we see in the painting (Fig 3.) without looking at the relationships between them or over interpreting them. This is also where I will start acquiring some knowledge of the artists themes and subject matter in his works, as well as the artists direct and indirect sources.
The second phase is where I start relating the elements with one and another (Fig 4.) so I can formulate the subject or theme. So for this painting we can see it is some sort of formal meal, maybe a family, set possibly somewhere in the Mediterranean. The characters in the foreground are clearly telling some kind of story by how they are interacting with each other. In the image I have shown how I think all the signs are interacting. As you can see a lot of the connections seems to focus around the male and female characters on the right. As well as this the male character is the only one not in profile which I think could be important. Before moving onto the third stage I am now able to say what the direct source of inspiration was for the painting; Keats poem Isabella or The Pot of Basil. Knowing this can tell me a lot about the who the characters are and what roles they will play. For example, I know that Isabella the girl on the right and her brothers, the two male characters on the left are siblings from a rich florentine family. Lorenzo, the male character interacting with Isabella is a steward to the family, however the two characters have fallen in love much to the dismay of the two brothers who want her to marry a man from another noble family thus bring more wealth. At a loss the two brothers murder Lorenzo and bury him in the woods. As a ghostly vision Lorenzo visits Isabella telling her what happened and where to find his body. She finds the body, removes the head and buries it in a pot of basil, this pot of basil I believe is on the window sill at head height with the two main characters. The brothers then find the rotting head in the pot, destroy it and flee, Isabella now without love or the head goes mad and dies.
The third phase is about identifying the deeper, also symbolic meaning of a sign as explicitly intended by the artist. It certainly feels this is one of the most important stages as I am finally pinning down what all the elements are and what their meaning is. This is made easier having established all the signs and how they connect to each other and what the theme of the painting is. For help pinning down all these symbolic meanings I have found this painting referenced in the book Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography edited by H.E Roberts (Roberts, 1998). Roberts lists the book in the section of ‘Death’, which is not something you initially get from the painting, which proves why the iconographic process is so useful as a lot of the meanings are not initially very obvious. In this picture I have highlighted all the most important symbolic signs which compound the meaning of the painting. First we have the flowers above Lorenzo and Isabella, the white flower above Lorenzo signifies is love, the passion flower above Isabella shows simply her passion. This connected with the blood orange they are sharing is symbolic of love. The dog with its head in Isabella’s lap is echoing the affections of Lorenzo and is basically a symbol of his, Lorenzo’s devotion to Isabella whilst being symbolic of the two characters social standing. The fact that the brother closest to the viewer is kicking the dog is effectively the brother kicking away Lorenzo. Death is subtly shown in the image first the brother holding up a wine class in a mocking way that appears to be filled with a blood like liquid. Next a sign of death is spilt salt which you can see on the table next to the brothers, the last two signs predicting Lorenzo’s death is the hawk pecking a white feather that connects to the flowers above Lorenzo’s head as I showed in the previous phase. The final sign is shown by the dog on the left, almost buried under the brothers asleep, or dead, as we have already mentioned the other dog is symbolic of Lorenzo, the fact that this dog is almost identical to the one interacting with Isabella I think proves the symbolic connection.
The final stage is about identifying deeper meaning in the painting NOT intended by the artist. The final stages I will be replacing by showing how the painting connects to the ad shown at the top. For me it isn’t really important to show unintended meaning at this stage it is more important to show how this painting connects to the ad created almost 200 years later.
Moooi (2016) How To Spend It (October), p. 49.
Roberts, H.E. (ed.) (1998) Encyclopedia of comparative iconography: Themes depicted in works of art. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers.
Wood, C. (1981) The Pre-Raphaelites. pp.14. London: Weidenfels and Nicholson.