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An Anthropology of Images:
Picture, Medium, Body
Hans Belting
Translated by Thomas Dunlap

Paperback | 2014 | $29.95 | ($17.97) / £19.95 | (£11.97) | ISBN: 9780691160962
216 pp. | 6 x 9 | 61 halftones.
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In this groundbreaking book, renowned art historian Hans Belting proposes a new anthropological theory for interpreting human picture making. Rather than focus exclusively on pictures as they are embodied in various media such as painting, sculpture, or photography, he links pictures to our mental images and therefore our bodies. The body is understood as a "living medium" that produces, perceives, or remembers images that are different from the images we encounter through handmade or technical pictures. Refusing to reduce images to their material embodiment yet acknowledging the importance of the historical media in which images are manifested, An Anthropology of Images presents a challenging and provocative new account of what pictures are and how they function.

The book demonstrates these ideas with a series of compelling case studies, ranging from Dante's picture theory to post-photography. One chapter explores the tension between image and medium in two "media of the body," the coat of arms and the portrait painting. Another, central chapter looks at the relationship between image and death, tracing picture production, including the first use of the mask, to early funerary rituals in which pictures served to represent the missing bodies of the dead. Pictures were tools to re-embody the deceased, to make them present again, a fact that offers a surprising clue to the riddle of presence and absence in most pictures and that reveals a genealogy of pictures obscured by Platonic picture theory.

Hans Belting has held chairs in art history at the universities of Heidelberg and Munich and has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Columbia, and Northwestern. He also cofounded and taught at the School for New Media in Karlsruhe, Germany. His many books include Likeness and Presence, The End of the History of Art?, The Invisible Masterpiece, Art History after Modernism, and Looking through Duchamp’s Door.


"Belting is one of the most brilliant and most prolific art historians."--Choice

"[A] fascinating if not revolutionary look at the way we interact with other 'embodied' images such as sculptures, photographs, films, paintings and more. . . . Brilliant."--William Yeoman, West Australian

"An Anthropology of Images is a wonderful insightful account of a new anthropological theory for interpreting human picture-making."--Joanna Rak, Anthropological Notebooks


"The case for an anthropology of images is very compelling. Belting's insistence on thinking across the received divisions between mental and physical images, virtual and real images, and technical and nontechnical images is refreshing and provocative. He is rightly skeptical of current dogmas about 'new media' as a radical historical break that renders the concept of the image obsolete. Again and again, he rejects rigid antitheses and presentist rhetoric as he argues for a much more nuanced, complex history of images."--W.J.T. Mitchell, University of Chicago

"Highly original and provocative, An Anthropology of Images is integral to today's contentious debates about the nature, history, and domain of images. The book's insights ripple far across the field of art history."--Michael Leja, University of Pennsylvania

Table of Contents:

A New Introduction for the English Reader 1
Chapter 1: An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body 9
Chapter 2: The Locus of Images: The Living Body 37
Chapter 3: The Coat of Arms and the Portrait: Two Media of the Body 62
Chapter 4: Image and Death: Embodiment in Early Cultures 84
Chapter 5: Media and Bodies: Dante’s Shadows and Greenaway’s TV 125
Chapter 6: The Transparency of the Medium: The Photographic Image 144
Notes 169
Bibliography 189
Index 199

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Thomas Dunlap:

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File created: 11/21/2015

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