Just as only distant (and therefore quaintly inferior) cultures have mythology, so only distant (and therefore quaintly inferior) cultures have iconography. But if it were possible for cultures which we see as closely connected to our own to have iconography, we might reach some interesting conclusions by studying it.

For example, we might realize that the central figure in Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People should be categorized as a nude, despite having most of her body covered. And if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: the female nude in Western art is not only traditionally a symbol of beauty, but the symbol of a certain soft, warm, and peaceful beauty. So that using one as a main figure in a scene of instability and violence is dissonant. And if we accept that one of the minimal requirements for great art is beauty, and that the viewer requires consonance and harmony in order to feel beauty, we might be forced to the conclusion that Delacroix made an iconographic mistake in this one.

But could Delacroix make a mistake? Weren't we always taught that Delacroix was one of the good guys, and that they don't make mistakes, just as we were taught that his foil Ingres did little else? Well, maybe things aren't as simple as all that, and there's something to be gained by occasionally looking each work from scratch, in its own right.

Eugene Delacroix  - Liberty Leading the People
  Image courtesy of Mark Harden's Artchive  

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