Preface to the French Edition of "The Power of Images"

Freedberg, David A.

The genesis of this book lies in my earlier work on iconoclasm and censorship. When, in 1969, I began writing my Oxford doctoral dissertation on Iconoclasm and Painting in the Revolt of the Netherlands it was still possible to ask why, with the exception of Byzantinists, art historians had paid so little attention to a subject which seemed to me to stand at the center of their field. The only general work on iconoclasm was the little-known and rather summary book published by Julius von Végh in Strasburg in 1915. Censorship of the arts had received only sporadic attention. Since then, of course, the situation has changed considerably, and the subject of iconoclasm and violence towards images has come to occupy something of a central position in the work of anthropologically and psychologically inclined art historians.

Throughout the 1970s I continued to publish on both ancient and modern iconoclasm, sometimes seeking more general structures of violence towards images. By the 1980s the subject had gained respectability. The collection of essays edited by Martin Warnke published in Munich in 1973, Horst Bredekamp's inexplicably neglected Kunst als Medium sozialer Konflikte: Bilderkämpfe von der Spätantike bis zur Hussitenrevolution of 1975, and Dario Gamboni's short book of 1983 on contemporary iconoclasm represent key stages in this development. During this same period I became ever more concerned with other forms of powerful responses to images that had been neglected by art historians -- if not by anthropologists, folklorists, and historians of popular movements. I thus began to devote my attention to the more dramatic kinds of devotional and religious responses to images, as well as to sexual ones. Increasingly I realized that positive and negative responses to images were often two sides of the same coin, and that it was precisely this dialectic of response that merited much closer attention than it had hitherto received. Hence the project that culminated in The Power of Images of 1989.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Published Here
April 8, 2010


Published in Le pouvoir des images (Paris: G. Monfort, 1998).