The next phase of digging deeper into Berger’s (2008) theory on oil paintings directly influencing modern advertising is to subject the advert (Moooi, 2016), that I believe references, Millias’s Isbabella (Wood, 1981) to a semiotic breakdown.
I will conduct the deconstruction using a mixture of vocabulary from Both Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Peirce which I think makes the whole process a little more fluid, rather than only relying on one of their methods. I am partly doing this as the research material I have used when looking into semiotics has done the same.
Straight away there are similarities in the decoding process between semiotics and iconography. For example the first phase in semiotics is to discover all the signs, much the same as the first phase in iconography, but the similarities don’t stop there, the second phase where I am discovering the signs interaction between each other is also mirrored in iconography.
Continuing now with the first phase on this advert I first note how the whole image is a collection of iconic signs (Fig. 4), signifiers that mean people, furniture and the room around them, so they are signifieds because they visually resemble people, furniture and the room around them, thus making them iconic.
The photograph as a whole, without the copy and title, acts as an indexical sign of what it depicts, since it was made by capturing the light bouncing off the objects in the room. You do have to be carful here however, as the whole image could be constructed from parts and put together in photoshop. This means that it's actually an icon of an indexical image not a true index which ultimately means we read it as a real scene even if it is not.
Looking deeper you can see the clothes the signifiers are wearing, the food they are eating and the background are all symbolic (Fig. 5) of wealth, elegance and class. Some of the signifiers taken on their own, like the fish or candles or bowel of crisps are not signifieds of wealth or elegance, so in this case they gain their meaning from the other signs around them like the room, the furniture and what people are wearing. So these signs or signifieds are called syntagmatic (Fig. 6). All these extra syntagmatic signs point to and add to the symbolism of wealth and elegance.
So far all the signs I have decoded are all things people would read instantly. This ad was published in a magazine called How To Spend It, which is a supplement of The Financial Times. The readers of that supplement would understand the adverts preferred meaning of wealth elegance and luxury, it codes and signifieds are all easy to understand if you are not a new comer to reading the FT or its supplements.
So for the final stage, now i know what these signs are all saying how then do they transfer these signifieds onto the product, the light. As Berger (2008) says ‘The things which publicity sells are in themselves neutral, just objects and so they have to be made glamorous’. In fig. 7 you can see my annotations showing how I believe the meanings are transferred to the product. Note how the use of colour between the tile, the product, the scene and the copy all link up.
So this three phase deconstruction I believe illustrates how the image works, how its uses examples of wealth and elegance from a made up iconic and indexical scene to sell the light. This does, I believe prove that Berger’s examples of advertising ‘echoing devices once used in oil painting’ is still used. Although it has to be said this advert is not an exact copy of Millais’s Isabella. I do believe that the photographer or Art director or whoever was in charge of the images idea creation is using elements of prestige and wealth that Millais painting exhibits. By setting their advert in a very similar scene to what Millais did, all be it for different reasons, Moooi are able to echo the same devices of wealth and elegance. This scene is set up so you could indeed build a story out of it much like I did in the Iconographical process used to deconstruct the painting.