CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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de Bosio, Stefano
A Distinctive Stimmung: Wölfflin and Kandinsky on Image Lateral Reversal and Pictorial Order

Session 2 The Rank of Art

Freie Universität in Berlin;


In his essay “On Right and Left in Pictures (1928), Heinrich Wölfflin attributed a major role to image direction in defining the distinctive ‘Stimmung’ of a picture: If left and right are reversed, as in a mirror, the image loses completely its original ‘atmosphere’, as well as ‘effect’.. A few years before, Wassily Kandinsky had devoted a part of his treatise Point and Line to Plane (1926) to the implications of left and right in pictorial composition, analyzing the effects of mirror reversal on a same linear configuration.

This paper explores the almost simultaneous and unprecedented role explicitly attributed to image lateral configuration as an aesthetic and theoretical criterion for evaluating both ancient and contemporary art. Through Wölfflin’s formalism and Kandinsky’s aesthetic thinking this paper will examine how the parameters of image laterality and image lateral reversal act within art history and artistic avant-garde discourses. The aim is to reconsider and to historicize this approach and definition of the pictorial field, highlighting its emotional and empathetic components and charting its links with early 20th-century experimental psychology.



de Bosio, Stefano

Stefano de Bosio (PhD, University of Turin, Italy, 2012) is a postdoctoral fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin. His current research and book project, entitled “Toward an Epistemology of Image Reversal”, focuses on the early modern approaches to image laterality through a comparative and transhistorical perspective, with particular reference to printmaking techniques and ekphrastic strategies (“Formes de la répétition. L’image inversée dans les Recueils gravés au XVIIIe siècle”, in Wiederholung/Répétition, eds. A. Beyer, E. Jollet, Deutscher Kunstverlag, in press; “Idea and its Polymorphic Body. On Image Reversal, Pictorial Order and Ekphrastic Practices in Early Modern Italy”, in The Silence of Images, ed. C. Cieri Via, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, in press).

His research interests also include cultural transfers and the mobility of artists in early modern Europe (e.g. “Per Ambrogio Bellazzi da Vigevano”, in Nuovi Studi. Rivista di Arte Antica e Moderna, 2012; “Se rendre à Lyon. Les Etats de Savoie et la région lyonnaise entre XVe et XVIe siècles”, in Peindre à Lyon au XVIe siècle, ed. F. Elsig, 2014; a book on the Western Alpine region around 1500 is in preparation) and notions of tradition, imitatio and aemulatio in the artist’s creative process in 16th-century Italy.