Cover image for The forbidden image : an intellectual history of iconoclasm
The forbidden image : an intellectual history of iconoclasm
Besançon, Alain.
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Uniform Title:
Image interdite. English
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
viii, 423 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
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BR115.A8 B4713 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Philosophers and theologians have long engaged in intense debate and introspection over the representation of the deity, its possibilities and its proscriptions. The Forbidden Image traces the dual strains of "iconophilia" and iconoclasm, the privileging and prohibition of religious images, over a span of two and a half millennia in the West.

Alain Besançon's work begins with a comprehensive examination of the status of the image in Greek, Judaic, Islamic, and Christian thought. The author then addresses arguments regarding the moral authority of the image in European Christianity from the medieval through the early modern periods. Besançon completes The Forbidden Image with an examination of how iconophilia and iconoclasm have been debated in the modern period.

"Even the reader who has heard something of the Byzantine quarrels about images and their theological background will be surprised by a learned and convincing interpretation of the works of Mondrian, Kandinsky, and Malevich in terms of religiously inspired iconoclasm. . . . This is an immensely rich and powerful masterpiece."--Leszek Kolakowski, Times Literary Supplement


Author Notes

Alain Besançon is the director of studies at L'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. A specialist in Russian politics and intellectual history, he has written a number of books, including Anatomie d'un spectre and Les origines intellectuelles du léninisme .

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

As French scholar Besanon makes clear in this wide-ranging study, the commandment that forbids images of the divine was addressed to a culture filled with them. The tension between iconoclasm and incarnation, between Plato's forms and their imperfect physical copies, between the sublime in art and mere picture-thinkingDthis tension in its various guises drives this account of 2500 years of the "forbidden image." From Plato and the biblical tradition, through the iconoclastic controversy of eighth-century Byzantium and the Calvinist wing of the Reformation, to the ambivalent state of the divine image or the sublime in modern nonrepresentational art, we follow the path of the image's defenders and detractors. The greatest strength of the book is its incredible breadth, bringing together philosophy, theology, and art history. Its greatest weakness is its focus on intellectual history at the expense of the social and cultural factors that made these intellectual conflicts compelling for their participants. A masterly work nonetheless.DSteve Young, Montclair State Univ., NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Part One Iconoclasm: The Ancient Cycle
Chapter One The Philosophical Critique of the Image
1 Preliminaries: "Civil Theology"
2 Early Philosophy
3 Late Philosophy
4 The Persistence of the Pagan Image
Chapter Two The Biblical Prohibition
1 The Prohibition of the Torah
2 The Jewish and Muslim Interpretations
3 In the Image and Likeness
4 The Image of God: Four Church Fathers
Chapter Three The Image in Dispute
1 The Production of Christian Images
2 The Icon and Dogma
3 Iconoclasm:Pro et Contra
4 The Icon
Part Two Pax Romana of the Image
Chapter Four The Middle Ages
1 The Letter to Serenus
2 TheCarolini Libri
3 Relics
4 Bernard and Dionysius
5 Bonaventura
6 Thomas Aquinas
Chapter Five The Renaissance and the Baroque Period
1 The Affirmation of Art and of the Artist
2 The Support of Ancient Gods
3 Around Trent
4 The Crescentia Affair
5 The Image in Celebration
Part Three Iconoclasm: The Modern Cycle
Chapter Six The New Theology of the Image
1 Three Iconoclasts
2 Hegel: Nostalgia for the Image
Chapter Seven The New Theology at Work
1 The French Exception in the Nineteenth Century
2 Nineteenth-Century Religious Art
3 Symbolist Religiosity
Chapter Eight The Russian Revolution
1 Russia's Aesthetic Education
2 The Spiritual: Kandinsky
3 The Supreme: Malevich