A computer-aided iconological analysis of anthropomorphic landscapes in western art 1560s-1660s

  • Anna Bentkowska-Kafel

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This study is concerned with anthropomorphic landscapes in the 16th and 17th century art in western Europe, their origins and legacy. The composition of such works is based on the idea of double-imaging: they are visual representations of fantastic landscapes depicted in the form of human heads or whole figures, in which trees, rocks, buildings and other elements of the natural and man made environments are used to represent anatomical features. Such images escape classification and make terms traditionally used in the history of art to describe pictorial genres redundant. No earlier monographic study of anthropomorphic landscapes has been located. When considered previously, individual examples of anthropomorphic landscapes were considered as anamorphoses (art of distorted perspective) or composite heads in the style of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, ie grotesque depictions of people whose bodies consisted of various objects. By stressing the 'portraiture' aspect of the composition earlier scholars neglected the landscape. In this study these approaches are re-examined in the light of contemporary visual and textual evidence and a different iconological interpretation is proposed. Within the double-imaging the image of man and the image of Nature are regarded here as equally important and totally interrelated: man is the image of the world. Anthropomorphic landscapes are seen as meaningful cosmological representations of the world. They illustrate the religious, philosophical, scientific and artistic concept of man being 'a little world'. This ancient tenet of natural philosophy has been replaced by modern concepts of the world and the cosmological meaning of anthropomorphic landscapes has been lost. This research is also concerned with the use of digital technologies in iconographical analysis and interpretation. The catalogue raisonne of anthropomorphic landscapes has the format of an interactive multimedia application. It also incorporates an anthology of texts on anthropomorphism and a biographical dictionary. The iconographical analysis of the works was greatly aided by image processing, and the use of pattern recognition techniques was investigated as an alternative to traditional classification systems. The implications of digital imaging methods and the role of digital discourse as an interpretive technique for iconographic studies are also considered.
    Date of Award1998
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Nottingham Trent University

    Cite this