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12 Between Fiction and Reality: The Image Body in the Early Modern Theory of the Symbol

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Chapter Summary

This chapter considers the posterity of the interpretation of pagan religion during the Renaissance, a time when Christian images underwent a profound crisis even while the pagan gods were subject to aesthetic revival. Two ways existed of convincing oneself that the image is not an empty shell-to reanimate images: one dependent on the Neo-Platonic tradition, the other indebted to the Aristotelian philosophy. Ernst Gombrich highlights the confrontation between these two modes of thought underlying the theories of the symbol during the Renaissance, a time when the borders between symbolization and embodiment, representation and revelation continued to be blurred. What was previously conceived of as a kind of religious lie is now experienced as an efficacious way to convey and to convince by giving life to fiction. Anthropomorphism appears no longer as a deceptive device leading to superstition but as an ingenious trick sustaining eloquence in order to please and edify.

Keywords: anthropomorphism; Aristotelian philosophy; Christian images; Neo-Platonic tradition; pagan religion; renaissance symbolism



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