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Symbolic Structures

The Role of Composition in Signaling Meaning in Italian Medieval Art


Michael Grillo

How do images convey meaning? Traditional scholarship has treated iconography as a vocabulary of relatively fixed symbols. Symbolic Structures explores how composition, as a framing syntax, formally cues their specific meanings. Establishing its foundation in Italian Early Medieval and Byzantine images, this study examines paintings and relief sculptures from the twelfth century to the early fifteenth century in Italy to investigate the subtle role of composition as a symbolic system that permits images a wealth of expressive capabilities suited to the diverse needs of their times. In its analysis, this inquiry reveals the vital role of ambiguity in the succession from hierarchical composition to perspective in the Italian Late Medieval era.