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1. Veronicas and Artists
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16 Eras of the Image The repositioning of contemporary art with regard to the past—a past that was dominated by religious images—cannot be conceptualized solely as a movement of emancipation, as breaking with, and even breaking of, the older, religious image. The difference between religious and nonreligious images, besides being decided by their subject matter, is determined by the specific time period and context in which they are produced and circulated, and it is characterized by specific rules of image production and image appreciation. The history of the image before what Hans Belting has called “the era of art” begins in Late Antiquity with the adoption of pagan image cults— their redefinition as Christian and incorporation into Christian image practices. Trained as an art historian and Byzantinist, Belting has written on variety of topics related to modern and contemporary art as well as on methodological issues. Importantly, he has argued for an anthropology of images and the consideration of their lives beyond their existence as artc h a p t e r 1 Veronicas and Artists Veronicas and Artists 17 works.1 In Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art, he makes a distinction between the status of the early Christian image, which he calls the “cult image,” and the “art image,” and describes a set of important features concerning the status of religious images and their transformation in “the era of art.” The defining feature of the cult image was that it was venerated and treated as a real, living person who participated in rituals; “[I]t served in the symbolic exchange of power, and finally embodied the public claims of a community.”2 The special status of the cult image was supported by legends that traced it back to a supernatural origin —direct contact with the body of Christ (for example, the Holy Face on Veronica’s Veil), or Mary herself posing for the first icon presenting her likeness. Such images had a life of their own and were considered to have supernatural powers. Belting describes the cult of images as involving the public display of a cult image only on particular days and according to a prescribed program. Such displays had an important function for the community of believers. Before the “era of art,” most images produced and circulated were religious , even if they also served political or economic purposes. Belting defines the public practices of veneration of images according to “a prescribed program” as cult.3 Two aspects, not determined by the visual qualities of the image, characterize the cult image. On the one hand, the legend that gives an account of the image’s origin, and, on the other, the power of the image, were the result of its function as a material and visible support of a community’s identity. Religious images were used to elicit public demonstrations of faith and loyalty.4 The later medieval narrative image, “which presented sacred history” and implied an act of reading rather than viewing , was followed by a type of image that took on a different meaning and “was acknowledged for its own sake.” The term art came to designate a category of images as works created by artists and defined by a theory. This “era of art,” Belting argues, “lasts until this present day” and forms another history, a history of artists and not of cult objects.5 Early images with religious functions had a specificity that cannot be explained within the interpretative agendas of theology or art history.6 These images, which possessed communal, and precisely not aesthetic, signi ficance, were associated with practices of veneration.7 They were “actors” in communal practices and were treated as living persons; they were protected and, in turn, they offered the community protection. A significant element is the way the role of the image maker was defined with regard to such images: 18 Veronicas and Artists The intervention of a painter in such a case was deemed something of an intrusion; a painter could not be expected to reproduce the model authentically. Only if one was sure that the painter had recorded the actual living model with the accuracy we today attribute to a photograph , as in the case of St. Luke . . . could one verify the authenticity of the results.8 There was what we would call today a mechanical view of authorship— the image was considered the outcome of a...