Research Centers

European Research Center in History and Theory of the Image (ICONE)


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.

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