Foldable Pictures. Implications of Mediality, University of Zürich, November 21–22, 2014
Book pages, diptychs, and triptychs were popular formats for the presentation of images in the medieval and early modern periods. In addition to their ubiquity, these objects also share one essential material feature: the supports that carry the images are movable. The most obvious consequence of the mobile presentation is the consecutive progression of different views.
Only in recent years did scholars begin to consider the processes of transformation that the opening and closing of pictured surfaces generate, for example the strategies of layering or folding images and the production of tacit knowledge caused by such formats. Using foldable pictures leads to a metaphorical coding of entire object classes (being understood as the body or the tablets of the heart), but also to a semantization of specific object areas (the dichotomy of inside and outside as, for example, “secular” versus “sacred”, or “accessible” versus “secret”). Furthermore, also structural features such as borders or thresholds, hinges, and cleavages play a decisive role in these processes. Thanks to the viewer’s memory, images “hidden” beneath other images begin to “gleam through” and become virtually present nonetheless. Movability also creates multiple lines of vision or additional moments of contact between represented persons.
It appears that artists have paid much more attention to these issues as has been hitherto recognized. It may also be noted that this is not a phenomenon restricted to artistic problems. In religious images, such effects were harnessed to draw attention to other functions, such as didactic or mnemonic purposes.
This conference will explore the range of recently observed phenomena, and discuss their implications for the concept of the image in medieval and early modern period. This may lead to a critical revision of the finestra aperta paradigm as well as to a redefinition of the relationship between images and their contexts, especially in the case of the religious sphere. From a religious point of view, the action of opening and closing increases the aura of a work of art and also has implications for the practical use and control of images in the religious cult. Especially a consideration of the virtual presence of encased images bears potential to shed new light on neglected functions of images or the workings of memory versus visuality. Considering these and other aspects of foldable pictures, will have an impact on our understanding of the overall tension between presence and absence and the anagogic qualities of images.