Paul Taylor

Position title: Solmsen Fellow (2020-2021)

Curator of the Photographic Collection, The Warburg Institute, University of London

a photograph of Paul Taylor standing in front of shelves supporting filing boxes. The image is cut off at his chest. He is looking straight at the camera, and is smiling. He is clean-shaven and has long blond hair which rests on his shoulders. He is wearing glasses, a green and white striped shirt and a blue corduroy jacket. Behind him there are two rows of tall filing boxes, one red, the other mottled black and brown. Hand-written and typed labels on each box refer to their contents. The boxes contain photographs of works of art, and form part of the Photographic Collection of the Warburg Institute, where Paul works.

How Images Mean: an Introduction to Iconographic Theory

My research is situated in the borderlands between philosophy and the history of images, providing conceptual analyses of how images have functioned in different social contexts, while attempting to map and explain major historical shifts in the modes of iconographic meaning. The book I intend to write will provide philosophers with new material to further their research into images, and will discuss long-term cultural developments which have received little attention from image historians.

The word ‘iconography’ normally refers both to the study of meaning in images, and to that meaning itself. The distinction drawn by Erwin Panofsky between ‘pre-iconography’ and ‘iconography’ is still useful. Paintings showing a woman and child (pre-iconography) can be read differently in different contexts as representing the Virgin and Christ, or Isis and Horus, or Charity. These contextual readings are examples of iconographic meaning. When Panofsky wrote of ‘iconography’ he was thinking of traditional works of art, but all images have iconographic meaning. A photograph of a real woman holding a real child might depict two specific individuals, but it could also be a stock photo of a woman and child that can be adapted by a pictures editor to different iconographic contexts (how to bond with baby, the plight of refugees, the benefits of breastfeeding, and so on). In my book ‘iconography’ will be used in this broad sense, to describe the meanings of images of all kinds.

The aim of my book is to look at the different ways by which iconographic meanings become attached to images. We can talk of ‘iconographic devices’, the mechanisms through which images acquires meaning. In the chapters of the book each of the principal devices will be discussed in turn; consensus, attributes, narratives, appearances and texts. A final chapter will deal with the iconography of images of images.

Paul Taylor is Curator of the Photographic Collection at the Warburg Institute, University of London. His publications include two books, Dutch Flower Painting 1600-1720 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995) and Condition: The Ageing of Art (London: Paul Holberton, 2015), as well as five edited volumes of conference papers. He has published articles on seventeenth-century Dutch art theory and iconography, Italian Renaissance iconography, and eighteenth-century French art theory. For many years he has been interested in the iconography of world art, and has given lecture series on the subject to audiences in Europe, Mexico, and China.