The image produces the effect of a collapse of time, an effect that we attempted to describe and account for in various ways. Philology, the science of difference, emerged in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as a tool for chronological sorting. Philology is therefore compelled to dismiss the constitutional anachronism of the image as mere error. In one classic account of the Renaissance, reasserted by Charles Dempsey, art proceeds in step with the recovery of letters initiated by Petrarch. Our account stresses instead the misalignment between philology and art. The new category "art-work," we have argued, offered a theoretical sanctuary for the lies and confusion generated by figuration by reconceiving forgery and anachronism as intertextual citation.
The aim of our paper, in any case, was not to readjust period labels but rather to introduce an analytical model that describes the emergence of the modern institution of the artwork as a reframing and redirecting of figural anachronism. This model is capable of tracking the artwork as it distances itself from competing myths of origins and reinvents itself as the projection of a hypothetical world within which metaphors of time can be staged and compared. As we proposed above, the self-divided, ironic nature of the artwork, which was latent in Erwin Panofsky's thought, was later lost in the academic obsession with periodization.
For Aby Warburg, a painting or a costumed ritual was a dense archive of cultural energies, a "dynamogram" that concretized and transmitted traumatic, primordial experiences. (1) Archaic stimuli were directly imprinted in matter and gesture, Warburg believed, giving figuration the power to disrupt a historical present tense. Dempsey, in his book on Botticelli's Primavera and in his response here, says that Warburg shows us that quattrocento vernacular festivals were engaging in a vital rapprochement with antiquity, "a remaking of living culture by assimilating into it the more perfect forms of Greek and Roman civilizations...." We believe Warburg was saying something far stranger. Warburg's cultural symbol was a token (sumbolon) that "throws together" past and present. For Warburg, Botticelli was doing more than "assimilating" ancient art; his paintings themselves, mystically, fled their own historical present and became works of ancient art. The chain of strong symbols is recursive, as Michael Podro pointed out, in the sense that the symbol is both an image of a situation and a gesture within that situation. (2) The work of art that was built around an antique pathos formula itself became a pathos formula in its own right.
Both Dempsey and Michael Cole maintain that Sandro Botticelli's Primavera was a unique product of Florentine Laurentian culture and could only with difficulty be connected to a substitutional theory of image production. We believe that Botticelli's citations of antique models function in Warburg's sense as reactivations of archaic gestures. The Calumny of Apelles was a reinstatement of a lost original achieved through a process of reverse engineering from textual sources. The Birth of Venus was a repetition of a famous painting by Apelles, doubled and reinforced by an embedded citation of the Knidian Aphrodite by Praxiteles (through the Medici Venus, as it were). In Primavera Botticelli cited the ancient group of the Three Graces and then added another layer of commentary on substitution by taking seasonal recursion as its subject matter. This is not to begin to speak of its relation to altarpiece and tapestry traditions. And then these three modern paintings themselves reentered the chain of substitutions. (3) Like many other works of the time, these are authorial interventions whose remarkable qualities are, paradoxically, in part the result of the effort to find a way back to a system of authorless production.
Cole rightly points out that Jan van Eyck's signed works deliberately broke with an authorless, substitutional theory of origins. He also points out that van Eyck's signatures and dates were blindly copied by later painters still working within a traditional paradigm. This suggests to Cole that our argument may amount to no more than the simple distinction between, on the one hand, progressive author-artists and, on the other, mediocre copyists still inhabiting a "long Middle Ages." We would respond that artistic authorship and replication were locked into a closer, more dialectical relation. Van Eyck's paintings thematized authorship, but within the framework of a reengagement with the authorless Byzantine icon. No mode of figuration more clearly embodied visual art's challenge to time than the portrait, which, as Leon Battista Alberti...