||Perspective, Symbol, and Symbolic Form: Concerning the Relationship between Cassirer and Panofsky
||Estetika: The Central European Journal of Aesthetics
|No. of Pages:
|10 Euro (€)
||During the last two decades of the twentieth century, there was a sudden surge of interest
in Ernst Cassirer’s major work, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1923–29), and Erwin
Panofsky’s essay, ‘Perspective as Symbolic Form’ (1927), an interest that has continued
uninterrupted to the present day. Particularly amongst art historians, however, a serious
misunderstanding remains evident here – the confusing of ‘symbolic form’ with ‘symbol’.
Cultural and perceptual mediations, in which objects (and subjects) are only just in the
process of forming, are carelessly turned into arbitrary, isolated objects of art history or
pictorial history. Every work, in this view, is regarded as a ‘symbolic form’ to the extent
that a representation of the world is ‘expressed’ in it. This article initially reviews Panofsky’s
essay in order to establish the context in which the art historian uses the term ‘symbolic
form’. His use of it is then compared with Cassirer’s original understanding of the term.
A careful distinction is made between ‘symbol’, ‘symbolic pregnance’, and ‘symbolic form’,
and this is followed by an analysis of scattered remarks in Cassirer’s writings, and particularly
in his posthumous manuscripts and notes, on ‘art’ as symbolic form and on the spatial
form that is prior to all perception and art production, as well as his call for a kind of art
history that conceives of itself as a scholarly discipline. The article concludes with the
recognition that Panofsky not only deliberately, but justifiably – that is, in the spirit of
Cassirer, at least – transferred the expression ‘symbolic form’ to ‘perspective’.
||Cassirer E.; Panofsky E.; symbolic form; symbol; perspective; cultural mediation; perceptual mediation; art history; pictorial history