Iconographic Analysis

Every good painter paints what he is.  Jackson Pollock

When we analyze a painting for its symbolism we call it Iconographic Analysis.

Sometimes symbols just “float up” when an artist works:

MGP Andersen, Untitled, 2009
Georgia O'Keeffe, Grey Line
Georgia O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit, 1930
Georgia O'Keeffe, Black Iris, 1926
John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward D. Boit, 1882

And sometimes it’s done deliberately:

Jan Van Eyck, Arnolfini Wedding, 1434
Caravaggio, Boy Being Bitten by a Lizard, 1600
Agnolo Bronzino, An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, 1545
Pieter Claesz, A Vanitas Still Life, 1645

A vanitas painting is a kind of still life designed to remind us of the vanity, or frivolous quality of human existence.

A memento mori is a reminder that life is fleeting.  In Latin it means “remember you must die.”

Let’s try to analyze some of our own.  Be mindful of two things:

  • Symbols change with time and culture.
  • We  bring ourselves to the work.
Rene Magritte, Personal Values, 1952
Robert Bechtel, Pontiac
Wayne Thiebaud, Delicatessen
Giorgio De Chirico, Melancholy and Mystery of a Street
Caspar David Friedrich, Winter Landscape
Goya (?) Colossus
Arnold Bocklin, The Isle of the Dead
Giorgio de Chirico, The Uncertainty of the Poet
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Future Science Versus Man
Norman Rockwell, The Problem We All Live With, 1964
Juan de Valdes Leal, Allegory of Death
Jasper Johns, Target with Four Faces, 1955