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Ernst Gombrich: Iconology and the “linguistics of the image

Author(s): Richard Woodfield

Journal: Journal of Art Historiography
ISSN 2042-4752

Volume: 5;
Start page: 5;
Date: 2011;
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Keywords: linguistics of the image | sematology | semiotics | Bryson | Goodman | Bühler | Gomperz | Schlosser | Kris

This paper is a product of work in progress on understanding Ernst Gombrich’s Viennese roots and the paradox that despite being the world’s most famous art historian he had comparatively little impact on the practice of the discipline. It is argued that this was, in part, because he was a commentator on the practice of art history rather than the exponent of a method. It was also because his preferred medium was the invited lecture rather than the peer-reviewed article or book. His interest in the ‘linguistics of the image’ was inspired by Julius von Schlosser and his contribution to that topic has been little understood in the Anglophone community because he worked from within a Viennese sematological framework, originating with Heinrich Gomperz’s ‘Ueber einige psychologische Voraussetzungen der naturalistischen Kunst’ and culminating in Bühler’s Sprachtheorie, that did not match the semiotic theories of Saussure and Peirce. However, he was not systematic and he is open to the criticism that he misunderstood or misrepresented Bühler’s Organonmodell der Sprache; in this he was in company with Karl Popper. The paper concludes by considering his essays in Symbolic Images as a flawed application of Bühler’s model.
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