‘Aniconism’ and Its Early Modern Sources and Antecedents
Dario Gamboni is Professor Emeritus of Art History at the University of Geneva and an Honorary Fellow of the Institut Universitaire de France. His research interests include iconoclasm, visual ambiguity, and museums created by artists and collectors. Among his books, translated into many languages, are The Destruction of Art (Reaktion, 1997), Potential Images (Reaktion, 2002), The Brush and The Pen (Minuit, 1989; Chicago, 2011), and The Museum as Experience (Brepols, 2019; Hazan, 2020; Wallstein, 2021). He is one of the editors of The Aesthetics of Marble (Hirmer, 2021).
The term ‘aniconism’ was coined in 1864 by Johannes Adolph Overbeck, a German archeologist, to characterize what he regarded as the earliest form of symbolization of the divine among the ancient Greeks. The primitivist valorization of this supposed anteriority came to play a role, together with the heritage of the monotheistic Bilderverbot, in the promotion of ‘abstraction’ as a superior form of expression in the decorative and the fine arts. This study wishes to identify the possible sources and antecedents of such a notion in the Early Modern encounters with, and representations of, cultic objects and practices that were at odds with the consecrated images and rites of Christianity