Dosso's Ambiguity

Koos, Marianne

In recent years ambiguity has become a matter of great interest among scholars of early modern visual art. While the declared goal of humanistically-oriented iconology was to determine a painting's "one and real" meaning from a historical point of view, the idea has come to be accepted today that many works of Renaissance art do not correspond to this unequivocalness, but are rather open, many-sided and semantically highly ambiguous. This ambiguity may be diverse and may apply equally to the illusioned content, the relationship between the painting and the viewer or the technical dimension that yields the picture as such. Taking a work of art out of its original context as well as historical distance may considerably intensify latent qualities of ambiguity. It seems to me to be essential, however, to distinguish two basic forms of ambiguity: on the one hand, the general openness of the meaning of an image, as, for example, described by so diverse authors like Umberto Eco, Theodore W. Adorno or Hans Blumenberg as being a valid quality and a normative category of every work of art. And on the other hand, the ambiguity that is deliberately produced by artists, created by the omission of significant attributes, the use of equivocal symbols or the addition of extraneous motives. As stressed by Valeska von Rosen in her recent publication on Caravaggio, this "intended (structural or strategic) ambiguity" is a phenomenon discussed since antiquity under the terms of "amphibolia" or "obscuritas". Early modern Italian art theory, however, which sought first and foremost to define norms for the effective visual conversion of a more or less clearly defined content, did not deal explicitly and dominantly with visual ambiguity.



More About This Work

Academic Units
Italian Academy
Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University
Italian Academy Fellows' Seminar Working Papers
Published Here
October 12, 2012