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European Theatre Iconography



Richard Woodfield
Some Reflections on Theatre Iconography

The literature on theatre iconography to date tends to use Erwin Panofsky's iconographical approach as a paradigm. Panofsky's methodology is flawed, however, by his failure to theorise the representational status of imagery. An alternative approach is sought in the work of Ernst Gombrich, who stresses the role of convention in depiction. The paper offers an account of how the ideas of Art and Illusion might be applied to the study of theatre iconography: the iconographer must ask what an image was for before asking questions about its information potential. She must also recognise that the conventions of naturalism changed and that in the Renaissance the demands of decorum would mean that different media would have different information potential. With the development of the theatre of illusion in the eighteenth century, the iconographer faces the paradox that an artist like Fuseli could well set out to capture the theatrical illusion that the stage offered. The invention of photography created a mismatch between theatrical illusion and the contingencies of appearance. Questions then arise about the nature of theatricality itself.

Lyckle de Vries
Theatre iconography: is it possible?

The visual arts are an important source of information for historians of the performing arts. Art of the early modern period, however, differs fundamentally from XXth century art. One method to fully appreciate this difference is the study of Erwin Panofsky's iconological system. A survey of this method is given as an introduction to the paper. The reliable depiction of objects and events from every day life never was the main purpose of painters, nor a precondition for their work. This holds true, even for XVIIth century Dutch painting, which was often labelled as "realistic". Its documentary value has grossly been overestimated. In this paper, Dutch XVIIth century genre painting is studied for its possible use as a source of information on the performing arts of that period. For each of the following aspects, the question is asked whether or not the comic theatre and genre painting in Holland had certain traits in common: repertory, casting, costume, acting, stage sets, stage directing, time, the spectator. This leads to a number of conclusions. Firstly, the visual arts should not be considered a reliable, direct source of information on the history of culture or mentality. Secondly, genre painting and the comic stage do not copy or illustrate each other, whatever similarities between the repertoire of both art forms may have existed. Thirdly, fragments of the material a performance was constructed of may be recognisable in the visual arts. This may include utensils, pieces of furniture, articles of clothing, and architectural details, as well as typical movements, standardised gestures, stereotyped faces, and stock figures. Painting and theatre both had their venerable traditions, and time-honoured sets of motifs. The unwarranted assumption that the traditions of these two forms of art were more or less identical, is the most dangerous pitfall in our field. This means, I'm afraid, that a historian of the theatre can use the visual arts as a source only, when he already knows what to look for, and what to expect.

Cesare Molinari
Notes about the Series in the Theatre Iconography

Since the Middle Ages fine arts endeavoured to tell stories by representing side by side their single episodes, in this way constituting a serie, or, better, a sequance. Actually we can consider as series every group of for different reason connected pictures, while in sequences pictures are connected mainly by the intention to stress a causal or chronological order. In theatre history we can consider as sequences the illustration which intend to visualize different and successive moments of a dramatic work, or of a theatre show. In this last case sequences have to be considered as tendentially exaustive memories of a show.

Maria Ines Aliverti
Plus théâtral que le théâtre. Stratégies de l'imaginaire et images pour un théâtre à venir, de Diderot à Craig

The contribution focuses on the role of theatricality in the theatre theories of Diderot and Edward Gordon Craig. They both use the notion of "theatrical", as false or artificial, to criticize the inherited scenic convention of their times. Nevertheless they both contribute, through a search for a new a specific art of the theatre, to change our consciousness of what is theatrical. Their seminal ideas are presented in two dialogues: Les Entretiens sur le Fils naturel (1757) and The Art of the Theatre (1905). These works are here considered in parallel as a sort of a theoretical workshop where two couples of an actor/director and a beholder are placed in a similar situation, having left the theatrical machine beyond them to discuss about the principles of the theatre art. Actually this particular set satisfies the need of changing the viewpoint on the theatre as a relevant condition to provide it with a new foundation, instead of simply reforming it in some aspects (see the notion of "système théâtral" in Diderot and that of "Art of the theatre" in Craig). Assuming this starting point the paper aims to point out how Diderot and Craig reset the theatre in the arts system, revaluing the role of the stage-crafts and emphasizing the visual image (extensively the stage scene as an image) as the very source of theatrical imagination and the core of the theatrical creative process.

Martine de Rougemont
La théâtralité relève-t-elle du visible ? Questions sur l'illustration théâtrale

The interrogation deals specifically with illustrations of plays. There can no more be a single answer than there can be only one definition of theatricality. A first series of pictures show that illustrations can play up to the theatricality (emphasis, symmetry, address to the public) of a dramatic situation seen as a tableau vivant. Or, using other aestethic means than the stage does, they can recreate action, dynamics. But if theatricality is the exposure of dramatic conventions, the very definition of text illustrations excludes this. The first set of answers has to be modulated by several variations. How do illustrations answer the theatricality of different dramatic genres: tragedy, comedy, bourgeois "drame", or Shakespeare, a genre on his own? The different relations of images to text - illustrating a word ("Leviathan"), a speech, a scene, a whole play -, do they imply different relations to their theatrical quality? How do illustrative genres evolve through history: is there a notion of progress, or ups and downs, in their feeling for theatricality? A last set of questions address the rapport between artistic value and theatricality. They try to specify the place of theatre iconography between theatrology and art history.

Thomas A. Pallen
Caveat emptor: A reinvestigation of Jean Fouquet's "The Martyrdom of Saint Apollonia"

Theatre historians have long isolated Jean Fouquet's The Martyrdom of St. Apollonia as an accurate depiction of one type of medieval performance. While not denying that interpretation, this paper seeks other potential significances by analyzing other Fouquet paintings and the life of Etienne Chevalier, the painter's patron, with the goal of considering this miniature in its full context. The writer begins by reviewing Fouquet's own involvement with theatre and the possible theatrical connections of the legend of St. Apollonia itself. He then recounts and discusses theatrical interpretations of the miniature, which for the most part have dwelt on staging and seating arrangements. A discussion of the central area of the painting follows, comparing it to another Fouquet miniature, The Abduction of the Sabines. Finally, the article turns to an examination of the picture's possible meaning in the context of Etienne Chevalier's life, analyzing the allegorical significance of its imagery to arrive at the theory that Fouquet may have used this illustration for his patron's Book of Hours to warn him of the dangers of an office to which he had just been appointed. While no more conclusive than theatrical interpretations, the thesis presented here offers an alternative interpretation that emerges more from the illustrative symbolism suitable to the painted images found in Books of Hours than attempts to treat The Martyrdom of St. Apollonia as a literal depiction of a performance in progress.

Sandra Pietrini
Iconographical Models in Various Contexts: the Roman Theatre in a French Manuscript of Titus Livius

In a French XVth century manuscript of Titus Livius's History of Rome is depicted the abduction of the Sabines during a theatre performance, with the audience arranged on a wooden framework similar to the scaffolds used for mystery plays and jousts. The miniature, which resembles to the more famous Martyre de Sainte-Apolline of Jean Fouquet, differs from the fanciful theatre buildings described and depicted in late medieval sources but it is also a crossroads of iconographical models and theatre icons. The representation in the middle is a bizarre patchwork of elements, revealing a blurred notion of the Roman theatre, and the observer's eye tends to replace it with the figurative theme, the abduction of the Sabines, placed in the foreground as upon a stage.

M.A. Katritzky
Theatre iconography in costume series: The "New York" friendship album

Three of a series of twenty-two colour drawings are examined. They are bound into an octavo leather-bound volume, sold on the New York art market in 1968, which I identify as a friendship album, a type of autograph album that became established in German-speaking Europe from the mid-sixteenth century onwards. The drawings are typical examples of the relatively rigid compositional conventions established by the early seventeenth century, for three of the most popular types of theatre iconography in friendship album costume series: masqueraders, charlatans, and comic stage players. Interpretation of the theatre-iconographic significance of such images requires cultural contextualization, within the diverging traditions of textual and iconographic conventions for recording specific theatrical activities, within the images and texts of their specific albums, and within the images, both theatrical and non-theatrical, of the early modern costume series. The three New York pictures are examined with reference to images of their subjects: in general, in costume series, and specifically in friendship albums. Special emphasis is given to printed albums, encouraged by commercial considerations to appeal to a broad spectrum of consumers, by reflecting the most popular current fashions, rather than the individual interests and prejudices of custom-made albums.

Renzo Guardenti
The iconography of the "Commedia dell'Arte": figurative recurrences and the organisation of the repertory

The iconography of the Commedia dell'Arte offers various examples which may be related to the phenomenon of the recurrence of figurative motifs produced in different geographical and chronological contexts, and meantime poses questions about a comprehensive organisation of the repertory. By means of a series of examples belonging to the French area - from the Balli di Sfessania by Jacques Callot to the painting of the Farceurs français et italiens, from Gillot's images to those of the Théâtre Italien of Evaristo Gherardi, from Bernard Picart's drawings to the pictures by De Troy and Van Loo - the paper recognises the persistence, along two centuries, of stage poses and characteristic attitudes, deriving both from the stage practice tradition of the Italian actors in Paris, and from the recurrence in the figurative arts of specific iconographic motifs. Tracing possible lines of evolution through different chronologies and geographical areas, leads to a reconsideration of the whole figurative repertory of the Commedia dell'Arte in France as a kind of iconographic macro-document which allows to consider the entire phenomenon into comprehensive terms.

Anne Surgers
Le corps éloquent de l'acteur en jeu au XVIIe siècle, à partir du Jugement de Salomon de Nicolas Poussin (1649) : figures de la rhétorique du visible

In the Seventeenth century the system of rhetoric was used whenever it was necessary to convey a thought, a speech, or a text to an audience. The embodiment of the rhetorical code and its reception and comprehension by an extensive audience were widespread phenomena. But the embodiment of the rhetorical code, called actio, was progressively transformed and degraded between the Seventeenth and the end of the Nineteenth century. The corporal eloquence of the performing actor has become today a dead language, for which we no longer possess the rules and the keys of understanding. For the rediscovery of this forgotten knowledge, the study of paintings and engravings is a precious source of information, capable of enriching our interpretation of theoretical writings, narrative accounts, and treatises. What precisely do these visual documents tell us here and now about another form of representation, the ephemeral theatrical performances which took place in other times and places? In order to help to decipher the dead language which the rhetorical actio has become for us, this paper presents an analysis of The Judgement of Salomon, which Poussin painted in 1649. The paper begins with a study of the rethorical body, its position in space, its gestures, its tensions, its breathing, etc. The second part of the study analyses the polysemic possibilities of the rhetorical body. The third and last part introduces the question of the study of visual rhetoric as a discipline corresponding term by term to the rhetoric of speech, applicable in painting as well as in theatre, and using figures of visual rhetoric in exactly the same way that texts use the rhetoric of speech.

Catherine Guillot
Les images-séries du roi de tragédie au XVIIe siècle et la question de la théâtralité du pouvoir politique

The illustrations of the seventeenth century offer us what the theatre is supposed to show: the theatrality of the king in power, and everything that symbolically exalts the royal power. We also understand better what is specifically theatrical in tragedy: it consists in putting into situation the exercise of authority. It also shows the political meaning of the theatre performances. Thus the spectator sees how the state power is legitimated by the king himself.

Günther Heeg
Theatre imagé. Diderot et Consort. Quelques pièces sur la relation intermediale entre les arts similaires du théâtre et de la peinture

From Renaissance period onward theatre has been confronted with the model of painting. But it was not until the Eighteenth Century, with Diderot and the 'bourgeois' reformers of theatre, that dramaturgy and theatrical performance were required to completely follow the 'logic' of image. In Diderot's theory of the 'tableau', the tableaux of current history and genre-painting become the real, non-metaphorical model and frame for the 'jeu muet' of the 'natural' gestures on stage. The composition and order of the tableau have to organize the performance, the perfect play is conceived as an arrangement of successive tableaux. In the first part of my paper I will briefly sketch how Diderot's efforts to put the theory of the tableau into theatrical practice failed. In his own plays he did not succeed in transforming the static time of the painting into the development of the action on stage. But this failure demostrates the general problem of translating the aesthetics of images into the medium of theatre. The contradictions of Diderot's practical attempt reveal the challenge of our usual conception of the 'dramatic' by the aesthetics of the medium of painting. I will draw attention to this 'challenge of intermediality' in the second part of my paper. In the practice of intermedial 'translation' we will find an unexpected link between the XVIIIth and the XX-XXIst century: Diderot's theory of tableau in theatre is in the final analysis closely connected with Brecht and - even more - with the aesthetics of 'postdramatic theatre' of - for example - Robert Wilson and Jan Fabre. The last part of my paper will be dedicated to the solution that Diderot arrived at in the 1760s in order to escape the 'aporia' of the 'Theatre of Images': the literary-dramatical description of an image. Finally I want to point out the importance of this genre with a view to contemporary theatre, especially the theatre of Heiner Müller.

Kati Röttger
The Devil's Eye: Goethe, Faust and the Laterna Magica

In this paper I intend to expand the central question of theatre iconography about the relationship of reference between visual images and a past theatrical reality by questioning also the relationship of reference between the media of visual representation and theatrical reality. This will be realized by analyzing through visual documents the specific function of the laterna magica in the first Faust presentations at the beginnning of the XIXth century. The iconological analysis of the illustrations will show that through the different perspectives of vision and epistemology that are opened up by the two media laterna magica and theatre stage Faust negotiates the crisis of representation and the crisis of the legitimation of knowledge in the late enlightment-era.

Maria Chiara Barbieri
Iconographical sources of a post-mortem image of John Philip Kemble

The paper examines A Startling Effect, a drawing of John Philip Kemble made some years after the actor's death by George Cruikshank. The drawing, realised and engraved to be published as one of the illustrations of the Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi edited by Charles Dickens, may be put in relation to several portraits and caricatures realised during Kemble's life. Searching the possible iconographical sources used by Cruikshank for its drawing enables to determine the features of the dead actor to which were attributed a strong iconic value, employed by the caricaturist to compose a wholly new image.

Shearer West
Performance and Display: The Actress on Stage at the Royal Academy

Focusing on visual and verbal representations of Sarah Siddons, this paper considers theatricality in London during the period 1780-1800. At this time, changes in viewing habits of the London public were brought about by larger theatres and by the more elaborate exhibitions held at the Royal Academy of Arts when it moved to Somerset House in 1780. The prominence of Sarah Siddons during this period coincided with these changes and the reception of her performance was coloured by them.
This paper will take the notion of the sister arts a step further by examining the effects of this mutable spectatorship during the period of Siddons' hegemony. At the end of the eighteenth century, art took on a performative dimension, and theatre increasingly became an arena of display. Following the work of Angela Rosenthal and Richard Wendorf, I will consider the ways in which the studio space of the artist became a theatrical one, but I will carry this idea further by examining the significance of anecdotes about Siddons sitting for her portraits. In contrast to this, I will examine the ways in which discursive representations of Siddons increasingly described her as a motionless figure, akin firstly to a painting and later to sculpture. Underpinning these comparisons will be a consideration of what theatricality meant to a spectator at the end of the eighteenth century and how it could be employed within the contexts of both the stage and the studio. Through a critique of Michael Fried's somewhat limited notion of theatricality, I will show how ideas of mobility and time were employed as part of the idea of the 'theatrical' and how these were imported into the experience of sitting for pictures and looking at art, even while stage theatricality was described as a static experience.

Martin Meisel
The Eye and the Beholder: Daumier's Le Drame and the Making of Audiences

Representations of the audience in the theater, as an essential party to the situation of performance, come into their own in the long nineteenth-century, as a subject of interest to those who now constituted "the public", offering telling glimpses into broader social and political concerns. One aspect of this self scrutiny was attention to the circumstances that can unite a set of observers into a body in a more meaningful, incorporate sense, notably in the theater, but elsewhere as well. The argument of the essay engages relations and discontinuities between the stage world and the audience world as suggested in a number of representations, starting with Daumier's Le drame; the distinctive nineteenth-century tension between externalized individuality, so evident in Dickens and the drama, and group identity; the role of "attention"; the transfer of the action into the audience; and the precipitation of some elements of a visual iconography that have persisted into the age of film. It argues that the class character of the audience defines the theater and the representation in the nineteenth century, and not the other way around. It addresses the erotics of the relation between stage and spectator with sidelights from Madame Bovary and elsewhere, and offers a fuller discussion of the exploration of the connection between the theater under the spell of an erotic spectacle and the dire social and political bearings of what turns an assemblage of individuals into a quasi organism (e.g. the political body in a nationalist frenzy) in Zola's Nana. In addition to Le drame, Daumier's graphic anatomy of theater audiences in their social and cultural variety gets considerable attention; and art of Menzel, Sickert, Maclise, and others also make a contribution.

Cesare Molinari
Daumier and Robert Macaire

Analysis of the Daumier's lithography representing a scene of L'Auberge des Adrets, the melodrama which marked the success of Frédérick Lemaître as the most important actor of the ninteenth century French theatre. The comparison with other images related to the same interpretation, with the newspapers' reviews and with the captions of the drama indicates that the lithography is directly connected with the mise-en-scène. Nevertheless it is very different from the others. This difference depends on Daumier's style and ideology.

Laurence Senelick
Theatricality before the camera: The earliest photographs of Actors

As Roland Barthes declared, photography is born not of painting but of the actor. He chose to see this as a technologically sophisticated tableau vivant, a presentation of the dead. In fact, more pragmatically, photography was born of a theatrical aesthetic. Not only were many of its inventors and practitioners men grounded in theatrical practice (Daguerre, Disdéri, John Clarke, Napoleon Sarony), but its artistic means and intentions derived from the theatre. In particular, in early photography, the displacement of characters derives from Diderot and the arrested moment derives from Garrick. Disdéri, the inventor of the carte de visite portrait, codified the transcription of stage practice. His prime subject was Ristori, whose prolongation of the pose as a way of capturing an emotional moment, was easily transferred to the glass plate. At the same time, he discovered that the unnaturalness of stage acting, ignored and effective in the theatre, was made conspicuous by the camera. Negotiating the degrees of mannerism became a photographic problem, solved to the extent that theatrical portraits became not only the economic milch-cow of photographers, but one of its greatest triumphs in promoting a new popular imagery.

Carol Ockman
Sarah Bernhardt: Death and the Icon

Theatricality as I apply the term to Bernhardt refers primarily to her emotional and gestural style of acting. Her contemporaries found it unprecedented in its femininity and sexuality, both of which were associated with excess, especially late in her career. By theatricality I mean histrionic as well as easily reproduced. The mimetic function of acting itself, with its endless possibilities for restaging greatly enhanced the actress' theatricality. Not only did Bernhardt die for a living, she died nightly, and sometimes twice a day, for over sixty years. Her self-conscious relationship to death is part and parcel of her iconicity. The repetition ad nauseam of her roles participates in the same reproductive economy that Bernhardt cultivated to lodge her persona and her performance in the public imagination, including photography, posters, and films. Paradoxically, it is Bernhardt's prescient use of mass production that enables her, and icons more generally, to live on well beyond the grave.

Claudia Balk
Theatricality and photography-iconographic similarities in nineteenth-century role portraits: postures, costumes and spatial situations

Photographs contain a variable element of 'theatricality', one factor of this variable being time of production.. To determinate the element of 'theatricality' especially in nineteenth-century photographic material, it is essential to be aware from which code - the code of the theatre or that of the photographic studio - the spatial and postural references originate. In the photographic studio of the XIXth century a particular postural convention had developed, so contrived, artificial poses as well as synthetically designed papier-mâché sets, lavish props, painted backdrops were typical of the set-up in a photographic studio and had an independent existence to the person being photographed. The photographic studios were early forms of virtual worlds where the theatre could be wonderfully simulated, but of course there was no longer much in common with the actual representation on stage, neither in terms of space nor postures. The end product was much rather a 'simulacrum' of the theatre. But even at a time of limited technical possibilities for photography - since throughout almost the entire XIXth century photographs could only be produced in daylight in the photographic studio - there was a demand for photographs which could capture theatrical situations and the atmosphere of the stage in pictures. Therefore the 'theatre' had to move to the photographer, costumes, accessories, props and even some pieces of the original décor were transported into the studio, sometimes at great expense. The aim to produce the impression of 'theatricality' was supported by the actors' or actresses' selection of significant costumes, role postures and even by their choice of the dramatic scenes.

Christopher Balme
Moving Media: Theatre Iconography and its Limits

The field of Theatre Iconography has been defined as variously as dealing with "the pictorial representation of theatre as a vital source of information in researching the history of theatre" (Erenstein 1997) or as the study of visual (as opposed to written or oral) sources in relationship to theatre history. Both definitions would, it seems, encompass the whole range of visual media, both still and moving. On a pragmatic level, however, it is obvious that the scholarly field has focused on specific historical fields pre-dating the XXth century. This threshold is significant for two reasons: it signals a) the change in art to non-figurative forms of expressions and marks b) the introduction of moving images as well as techniques of sound recording. Both innovations, one esthetic, the other technological, pose important questions for Theatre Iconography. The latter supersedes the documentary function of older media such as engravings, lithographs or even still photographs, while the former with its programmatic dissolution of mimetic representation similarly renders the documentary value of theatrical images questionable to say the least. This paradigmatic shift from the figurative to the non-figurative and from the still to the moving image forms the basis of my paper. I explore some of the implications of this dilemma by looking at one of the most frequently depicted theatrical artists of the previous fin de siècle, Loïe Fuller. Not only was Fuller represented in almost every available pictorial medium - from lithograph to bronze sculpture - but she was also the subject of one of the earliest film documents of theatrical performance and took a keen interest in the new medium. Taking the Fuller iconography as my example with its shift from the figurative to the non-figurative, from still to moving images, I discuss some of the theoretical dilemmata of theatre iconography by linking it with media theory, particularly the recent discussion on intermediality.


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