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another terninology key concepts and terms

Key Concepts and Terms

REMEMBER: When writing an essay for a worksheet you are NEVER allowed to copy straight from the textbook, primary texts or the online textbook.  I will notice if something is not in your own words and you will automatically fail the assignment.


A text, as in a textbook, is something you read. A work of art, like a book, is also something that can be read. The first step in reading a book is looking at it -- not reading the book in the traditional sense but actually looking at the physical properties of the book. How big is the book? What is depicted on the cover? How many pages does it have? Are there illustrations? Take the book down off the shelf, crack it open, and you begin to read the book for its style. The first thing you may notice is the book's form. Are the sentences long and complicated? How is the book organized? Does the book follow a chronological or alphabetical sequence? Reading deeper into the book you discover its content. You are now analyzing the meaning of the book and what the book is about becomes important. You may find that as the book progresses that the way in which the plot elements and characters relate to each other means something more than you first realized. The overall meaning becomes clearer as you analyze the symbolism of the book's plot and characters. This means that you have placed the work within a contextual framework. When we look at a work of art, the same concepts apply to reading a work of art as if it were a written text.

How do you analyze and appreciate a text as a work of art or a work of art as a text?

Formal Analysis

6-30. Augustus of Primaporta. Early 1st century CE 
(perhaps a copy of a bronze statue of c.20 BCE.) 
Marble, height 6'8" (2.03m). 
Musei Vaticani, Braccio Nuovo, Rome
Form consists of the physical properties of the work. Whether we look at a sculpture's size, mass, color, and texture or a poem's order of elements and composition, all are part of the work's form. When you are doing a formal analysis, you describe the way that the work looks, feels, and is organized. The next passage is a formal analysis of a work of art; the Augustus of Primaporta is a statue from the first century BCE. The statue stands six feet eight inches tall and is made of white marble. It depicts a male figure wearing armor and some drapery, with his right arm raised. The figure carries a bronze spear or staff in his left hand. The texture of the hair and skin mimic the texture of real hair and skin. Augustus stands in contrapposto, appearing to be stepping forward with most of his weight resting on his right hip. Attached to his right leg is a small dolphin with a winged baby on its back. 


Contemporary Whirling Logs
Whirling Logs
Navajo Sandpainting Textile
Contemporary Navajo Carpet 1990's

One of the more important elements concerning form is the idea of composition.  Composition can include how things are laid out in two dimensional space or how the picture plane is organized.

For example, the top two images in this illustration are asymmetrical.  The blue circles are not evenly distributed through out each rectangle.

The bottom two most images are symmetrical.  There are balancing elements on each side of the blue sphere in the lower left hand image.  Even though one of the objects is a square and the other a circle, they take up about the same amount of space and have the same visual weight.

The boxes on either side of the tall white rectangle are mirror images of each other and this can be referred to as symmetrical too.  Since you could draw a vertical line down the center of the center rectangle and on each side of this imaginary line it would be a mirror image, this is called bilateral symmetry.

The "Whirling Logs" textile on the left is arranged in a bilaterally symmetrical fashion because we could draw cut the design in half and the left and right sides are nearly a mirror image of each other.  Nevertheless, for all its symmetry, this textile appears kind of flat looking.

Stokstad, in the "Starter Kit" chapter of your book describes another aspect of composition which has to do with the creation of visual space through composition.

image Composition also has to do with the creation of the illusion of space.  When we look at pictures (as opposed to sculptures as the Augustus above) we often think of the picture as an imaginary window.  The front of the window, or the glass, is the picture plane that we look through.

In order to create space artists conceive of the picture plane as having three planes that recede back.  In order to create space in the picture plane and the appearance of a foreground, middleground and background we can overlap objects to give this illusion.  If there is nothing overlapped then we can say that there is no real illusion of space in the picture.

These two pictures demonstrate this idea.  If you look at the one on the left, there is very little overlapping in the picture plane and the figures seem to be pressed against this imaginary window. While the one on the right has some overlapping and we can tell that some figures are in front of others.  This overlapping gives us a sense of space.

  Contemporary Whirling Logs
Whirling Logs
Navajo Sandpainting Textile
Contemporary Navajo Carpet 1990's
Little River Simpson Whirling Logs c1999sandpainting
These two sculptural friezes demonstrate these ideas in a three dimensional form.  If you look at the one on the left, there is very little overlapping in the picture plane and the figures seem to be pressed against this imaginary window. While the one on the right has some overlapping and we can tell that some figures are in front of others.  This overlapping gives us a sense of space.
The "Panathanaic Frieze" from the Parthenon sculpted by Pheidias and his assistant, c.440 BCE, Athens, Greece, Classical Greek
Frieze from the Ara Pacis Augustae representing a prosession of Roman citizens, c139 BCE, Rome, Italy, Roman 
Here is an example of a formal analysis of the Greek tragedy The Bacchae written by Euripides in 406 BCE.  You can use a similar format of analysis when examining a work of art.The Bacchae is play written in a chant form called dithyramb. Musical instruments, especially the drum, were used to keep time in the performance of the play. Approximately eighty percent of the play is dialogue while only a small portion is devoted to action on the stage. The order of the narrative is predictable and therefore symmetrical because there is a continuous cycle of basic components that are repeated throughout the play. These components are known as the prologos, parados, episode, stasimon, and exodos. The repeated sections are the three central components of the parados, episode, and stasimon, which are retold in predictable form as many as five times in the typical Greek tragedy.
  • The prologos (prologue) is the opening scene in which an introductory monologue or dialogue is presented. This establishes the background information of the play and also introduces the "problem," or outlines the events that are to follow.
  • The parados is the next section in which the chorus, in chant form, introduces some of the characters.  They also tend to predict certain events and comment on the action that will follow in the episode.  The chorus is also a useful tool for explaining to the audience some confusing parts of the story line.
  • The episode is the main action of the play in which the central characters interact, to form a constant story line, in the center of the stage.
  • The stasimon follows the episode. In this section the chorus summarizes and comments on the action that took place during the episode. The play ends with the exodos.
  • The exodos is actually the last stasimon of the play and concludes the action with a ceremonial exit of the actors from the stage.

Since there are echoing or mirror like parts that come before and after the episode, which is in the center, you could think of the structure of the narrative as being fairly symmetrical.

Form is nothing without meaning, so the next step in the analysis of a work's form is supplemented by analyzing the work's content. By examining a work's meaning you are analyzing what the work symbolizes. This is called an iconographic analysis.

Iconographic Analysis

Icon comes from the Greek word Ikon which means image. Originally, the term icon was associated with images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. In our culture we sometimes refer to people as cultural icons such Marilyn Monroe. Art historians have transformed the term to be synonymous with the term symbol. Therefore an icon can be an image of saint or animal or it can be a symbol such as a crucifix or a flag. Iconography is the interpretation of a series of icons within a work of art or literature.

6-30. Augustus of Primaporta. Early 1st century CE 
(perhaps a copy of a bronze statue of c.20 BCE.) 
Marble, height 6'8" (2.03m). 
Musei Vaticani, Braccio Nuovo, Rome
The next passage contains an iconographic analysis of the sculpture Augustus of Primaporta.
The unnatural height of the statue is symbolic of the god-like status of Augustus. The figure's armor is a symbol of his role as a military leader. His raised right arm with an extended index finger appears as if he is gesturing or lecturing and maintains his position as a powerful leader.  The bronze staff in his left hand is an icon that signifies his status as a leader as he uses it to help dictate his proposed actions. The statue appears to be stepping forward and most of the weight appears to be resting on his right hip. This pose, referred to as contrapposto, was first developed in classical Greece and represents a legacy inherited from this past culture. Engaged against the right leg is a small dolphin with a winged baby on its back. The dolphin is a maritime reference and the small winged figure on its back may represent winged victory. The two icons, when juxtaposed against one another, may represent victory at sea. However, some interpretations of this iconography have suggested that the winged figure is Cupid and therefore represents Augustus' relationship as a descendent of the gods with Cupid acting as his kin. 

One of the concepts described in the above passage has to do with how the contrapposto pose of the Augustus statue is derived from an earlier period.  This evolution and borrowing of poses, forms, and symbols from one period to another is described as schema and correction.  The schema is the original plan and the correction is the updated version of the original.  The theory that art develops in this manner was first proposed by an art historian named Ernst Gombrich.

Kouros from Attica (the region surrounding Athens, Greece)
c600 BCE 6' 4" marble
polychrome, encaustic
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Doryphoros (Spear Bearer)
(also called "the Canon")
by Polykleitos c450-440 BC
Roman copy after a bronze 
original marble height 6'6"
tree stump and leg brace 
are later 
Roman additions
Classic, Greek
Another look at schema and correction:

Summary of Gombrich

Renown art historian Ernst Gombrich developed a theory to explain these adaptations and changes and refered to it as schema and correction.  If we were to look at the Archaic period's art and architecture as the plan or schema, we can see how the later Classic period might have taken the archaic art as its schema and updated it in order to make the designs more pleasing according to the  later tastes.  These changes are referred to as the correction.

The next update or correction occurs when the same pose and musculature from the Doryphoroswere adopted and adapted for use by the Romans in the portrait of Augustus.

To understand his theory called "schema and naturalization," or "schema and correction." To understand it you basically just need to know the definitions of three words. 

  • Schema is the cultural code through which individuals raised in a culture perceive the world. For example, we recognize stick figures to be humans.
  • Correction is where you take that schema and you compare it to what your senses tell you about the world and then you make it more accurate.
  • Mimesis is the process of correcting your schema.

Gombrich's idea can be expanded to looking how later groups can take the earlier work of art and mimic it (mimesis).  This is a kind of Darwinian theory kind of like Darwin's theory of the "survival of the fitest."

Read some more stuff by Gombrich if it interests you!


Some interesting ideas that might help you to understand the terms "civilization" and "period" occur when studying the concept of "schema and correction."  Both of these works of art come from the Ancient Greek civilization.  Even though we use the term "ancient" what we are saying is that the Greek civilization occurred a long time ago.  Within the Ancient Greek civilization, is tied to the region of land we now call Greece.  The civilization lasted between circa (approximately) 1000 BCE to about 100 BCE but we divide the Greek civilization into various periods that are defined by the style of art they produced.  For example, the Kouros from Attica, comes from a period we refer to as the Archaic period, which lasted from around 600-480 BCE.  The style associated with this Archaic period is that the sculpture is a bit unrealistic and slightly stylized in a geometric way.  This means that the style of the Archaic period was to make the sculptures look kind of "blocky" and unrealistic.  A later period that occurred during the Ancient Greek civilization is the "Classic Period" which lasted from circa 500 BCE -350 BCE.  The main characteristics are that the sculptures look lifelike or realistic.  So both the "periods" belong to the Ancient Greek Civilization.  The main difference between period and civilization is that period is a kind of style that is a subset of a civilization.  Civilizations go through many periods of development and a civilization is located in one geographic region and spans a longer time.

The next passage contains an iconographic analysis of The Bacchae.  Note that it attempts to explain many elements that are brought up in the formal analysis.The structure of the play is a vehicle that allows for a clear and repetitive format in which each of the main characters can model and communicate proper roles, attributes, and behaviors for the audience. The main characters in the Bacchae are the chorus, Dionysus and Pentheus. The chorus who are the narrators of the play symbolize the "ideal" followers of the hero of the play Dionysus. The hero, Dionysus (called Bacchus by the Romans) is the god of wine and drama and he represents liberation, divine order, and wisdom. Dionysus' adversary is his cousin Pentheus the immature king of Thebes. Pentheus denounces Dionysus both as his cousin and as a god and therefore represents ignorance. The rest of the characters represent the territory over which the protagonist and antagonist struggle. The play as a whole represents the struggle between the ignorance of those indoctrinated into the Bacchic rites and those who are ignorant non-believers who are not liberated by Dionysus.

Contextual Analysis

We are already familiar with the term text, which is something we read but the term comes up in other places such as the term textile. A textile is something that is woven. The term originates in the Latin word texere which means to weave. The term context evolved from the Latin contextus which means to weave together.

Contextual analysis weaves together the text's form and iconography with the work's background: its environment, history and culture. For example, we need to know that the average height of human beings during the Roman Empire was usually around five feet tall in order to understand the significance of the height of the statue.

6-30. Augustus of Primaporta.
Early 1st century CE 
(perhaps a copy of a 
bronze statue of c.20 BCE.) 
Marble, height 6'8" (2.03m). 
Musei Vaticani, 
Braccio Nuovo, Rome
Aulus Metellus
The next passage is a contextual analysis of the Augustus of Primaporta.
The portrait of Augustus of Primaporta is work of political propaganda. Augustus waged an extremely profitable series of wars and was able to extend the Roman Empire's borders.  His ability to control the Senate maintained his status of unchallenged power within the Roman city as well. The unnaturally tall height of the statue is symbolic of the god-like status of Augustus because the average height was around five feet. The statue of Augustus is a correction of an even earlier sculpture called the Aulus Metellus.

Augustus's raised right arm symbolic of his abilities as a master orator and refers and builds on the iconography of Etruscan portrayals of great statesman such as depicted by the Aulus Metellus.  The raised arm, a symbol of rhetorical power as a speaker is combined with the bronze staff and armor are references to the abilities that any Roman leader should possess. In some ways, this is the originating idea of our conception of the "Renaissance Man" of the 1500's. The references to the Aulus Metellus statue, the contrapposto pose (invented by the classical Greek culture) and the Cupid (representing Augustus as a descendent of the gods) grant both the Augustus Primaporta, and Augustus himself, an authority based in time honored traditions.

Here is a contextual analysis of Euripides play The Bacchae.  Remember that this analysis can often bring together the themes that were expressed in both the formal analysis and the iconographic analysis.The play was probably written after Euripides voluntarily exiled himself from Athens. The play was not performed in Athens while he was alive. It is possible that Euripides was, or felt, that he was undervalued as playwright in Athens and may have written the play as a symbol of how he perceived the city. If this is the case, Euripides might have viewed himself as a type of mortal Dionysus, attempting to battle the great ignorance of the people. Euripides then perceived the people of Athens as the misled masses and the critics of Athens dramatic arts as ignorant princes who refused the gifts that were placed before them.

While these three forms of examination may seem arbitrary, they are not much different than the "who, what, when, where, and why" questions we were all raised on in grade school. When I first began my studies as an undergraduate much of my struggle as a student began with knowing what to look for. My sincerest wish is that you as students will be able to take these three planes of analysis (formal, iconographic and contextual) into other classrooms and areas in your life as a simple and effective tool.



        bilateral symmetryn (1860): symmetry in which similar anatomical parts are arranged on opposite sides of a median axis so that only one plane can divide the individual into essentially identical halves

        ²friezen [MF frise, perh. fr. ML phrygium, frisium embroidered cloth, fr. L phrygium, fr. neut. of Phrygius Phrygian, fr. Phrygia] (1563) 1: the part of an entablature between the architrave and the cornice--see entablature illustration 2: a sculptured or richly ornamented band (as on a building or piece of furniture) 3: a band, line, or series suggesting a frieze -- frieze.like adj

        sym.me.try n, pl -tries [L symmetria, fr. Gk, fr. symmetros symmetrical, fr. syn- + metron measure--more at measure] (1541) 1: balanced proportions; also: beauty of form arising from balanced proportions 2: the property of being symmetrical; esp: correspondence in size, shape, and relative position of parts on opposite sides of a dividing line or median plane or about a center or axis--compare bilateral symmetry, radial symmetry 3: a rigid motion of a geometric figure that determines a one-to-one mapping onto itself 4: the property of remaining invariant under certain changes (as of orientation in space, of the sign of the electric charge, of parity, or of the direction of time flow)--used of physical phenomena and of equations describing them