After WWII the first step towards the European integration was moved through the institution of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Although the importance of a European Common Market should not be underestimated, Europe’s strength has always been its cultural dynamism, the extraordinary symbolic heritage that can guide our search for a shared idea of humanity amidst the pluralism and multiplicity of the globalized world. The coal and steel of Europe are therefore its Romanesque cathedrals, Dante’s Divine Comedy, The Resurrection of Piero della Francesca, the Moses of Michelangelo, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Thus, the Old Continent’s past is at the same time an invaluable resource for its future.

The vitality of European culture lies not only in the creation of artistic masterpieces, but in its constant search for analogies amongst them: talking about Oedipus’ enigmatic Sphinx, Hegel references the ambiguous language of Macbeth’s witches; in Poliziano, De Sanctis couldn’t find any more neither Dante’s sketches no Giotto’s faces, but rather the paintings by Boccaccio and Perugino; Warburg saw in Botticelli’s Primavera the return of the paganism of Antiquity; vis-à-vis the complex structure of Gothic cathedral, Panofsky suggested to call articuli their basic architectural components, in order to draw an analogy with the structure of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologieae; Picasso broke into parts Velasquez’s Las Meniñas; Mondrian took inspiration from Piero della Francesca in his quest for geometric rigor.

Although Europe is the cradle of our civilization of images, it is nowadays succumbing because of its incapacity to endow itself with an image that lives up to its past. The study of the History and Theory of the Image helps us understanding the masterpieces of art against the backdrop of political conflicts, social dynamics, theological revolutions, the evolution of language and of our Lifeworld.

Images are not a mere byproduct of a cultural habits (as in our contemporary cultural industry, where there is no conscious memory anymore and therefore no reflection whatsoever), but also a way of seeing and thus an instrument that guides, accompanies and problematizes the complexities of experience.

Images think: besides interpreting their own age, images are able to solve cultural and social problems. Images preside over cultural exchanges and offer us a key for their interpretation. Often images speak where words are lacking, where words are too many or do not yet exist. Images bring together what is far away and set close things apart. Images mediate a complex network of relations upon which every authentic cultural turn depends, those rare but important leaps that mark the change of epochs.

Our skills have to be trained trough a synoptic approach, through comparisons and syncretism that allow us to cross disciplinary boundaries. Putting ourselves in this perspective will help us understand the building and succession of civilizations.

Browsing on the internet, we are exposed to a flux of information accompanied by only a few words – recent studies tell us that our online reading attention span is of three minutes – but by many images, that are able to captivate us with their striking immediacy. Exploring this immediacy, restoring images with their slowness and depth, is the aim of the center ICONE and the network of European scholars and artists that will gather amidst the artworks of the Palazzo Arese Borromeo.

The purpose of the European Research Center in History and Theory of the Image (ICONE) is the study of our figurative and symbolic culture, conceived as a heritage of allegories, metaphors and expressive forms that forms the core of the European civilization, of its identity and self-awareness, and moreover the reserve of the activity of criticism and creation.

Given its mission, ICONE finds in the halls of the Palazzo Borromeo in Cesano Maderno its ideal location, even its inspiration: the Sala dei Fasti romani, Piazza dell’Esedra, the Galleria delle Arti liberali and the Sale alla Mosaica show how the interplay of forms, rhythms, and figures is able of articulate an entire worldview.

The center ICONE not only intends to study the memory of images and its heritage in European culture, it also aims at analyzing the role of wide technological changes that first the automatic means of reproduction of photography and film, and then the digital revolution and the internet. These changes affect not only the technological level of the representation, but the nature of images themselves.

Thus, iconological, aesthetic, historical and critical perspective are merged together following the idea of a comprehensive study of both the traditional forms of the European culture of the image (plastic and visual arts, architecture, theater, dance, music) and modern forms such as photography, film, and digital media.

The European Research Center in History and Theory of the Image (ICONE) aims at becoming a landmark for the research on visual culture, forming a ‘hub’ with other similar centers in Europe, such as the Warburg Institute in London (, the Istituto Nazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento in Florence (, the Centre d’étude de l’écriture et de l’image (CEEI) – Université Paris-Diderot (, the ASAC of the Biennale di Venezia (, the Laboratoire Interactions Culturelles et Discursives – Université François Rabelais di Tours (,  and others.
Its activities will be:

bibliographic, analytic, theoretic, and critical research encompassing the whole of Western civilization, inquiring into the relations between knowledge and visual cultures;
the constitution of a library specialized in visual culture and the related research fields;
organizing seminars, lectures, conferences, round-tables, courses and master-classes concerning the contemporary reflection on the relations between philosophical, metaphysic, scientific, historical, theological, anthropological, aesthetic, social, economic, politic, linguistic, philological thought and visual culture.
hosting interdisciplinary studies and promoting the formation of a network with other research institutions in Italy and abroad;
publish proceedings, books, documents, and journal issues presenting the results of the research carried out by the center, with a special attention to outreach.

The center is located in the Palazzo Arese Borromeo of Cesano Maderno, in the immediate outskirts of the city of Milan:


Rettore o suo delegato
Prof. Massimo Cacciari
Prof. Andrea Tagliapietra (Direttore)
Prof. Massimo Donà
Prof. Francesco Valagussa


Members of the Research Center

Prof. Alfredo Gatto (Universidade de São Paulo do Brasil)
Prof. Giuseppe Girgenti (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele)
Prof. Enrico Cerasi (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele)
Dott. ssa Silvia Chiodi (CNR – ILIESI)
Dott. Raffaele Ariano (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele)
Dott. Marco Bruni (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele)
Dott. ssa Valentina Sperotto (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele)
Dott. Raphael Ebgi (Freie Universität Berlin)
Dott. Luigi Sala (Université François Rabelais de Tours)
Dott. ssa Janna Voskressenskaja (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele)
Dott. Giacomo Petrarca (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele)

Massimo Adinolfi (Università degli studi di Cassino); Claudia Baracchi (Università degli studi di Milano-Bicocca); Claudio Bartocci (Università degli studi di Genova); Simonetta Bassi (Università degli studi di Pisa); Giovanni Bonacina (Università degli studi di Urbino); Adone Brandalise (Università degli studi di Padova); Amina Crisma (Università Alma Mater di Bologna); Fabrizio Desideri (Università degli studi di Firenze); Alexandre Guimarães Tadeu de Soares (Universidade Federal de Uberlândia (Brasil)); Leonel Ribeiro dos Santos (Universidade de Lisboa); Giulio D’Onofrio (Università degli studi di Salerno); Catherine Douzou (Université François Rabelais de Tours); Roberto Esposito (Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane-SUM, Napoli); Adriano Fabris (Università degli studi di Pisa); Emmanuel Faye (Université de Rouen); Nicola Gardini (University of Oxford); Romano Gasparotti (Accademia delle Belle Arti, Brera-Milano); Sebastano Ghisu (Università degli studi di Sassari); Dario Giugliano (Accademia delle Belle Arti, Napoli); Giacomo Marramao (Università degli studi di Roma Tre); Piero Martin (Università degli studi di Padova – American Physical Society); Maurizio Migliori (Università degli studi di Macerata); Jean-Luc Nancy (Université de Strasbourg); Salvatore Natoli (Università degli studi di Milano-Bicocca); Pier Aldo Rovatti (Università degli studi di Trieste); Vesa Oittinen (Università di Helsinki); Giangiorgio Pasqualotto (Università degli studi di Padova); Mario Perniola (Università degli studi Roma Tor Vergata); Francesca Rigotti (Università della Svizzera italiana); Renato Rizzi (Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia); Hans Bernard Schmid (Universität Basel); Emidio Spinelli (Università degli studi La Sapienza-Roma); Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer (Universität Leipzig); Italo Testa (Università degli studi di Parma); Francesco Tomatis (Università degli studi di Salerno); Federico Vercellone (Università degli studi di Torino); Vincenzo Vitiello (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele); Frieder Otto Wolf (Freie Universität Berlin); Günter Zöller (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München).