Visual Culture

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  • Topic: Arnolfini Portrait, Meaning of life, Hans Holbein the Younger
  • Pages : 6 (2037 words )
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  • Published : September 23, 2011
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Stella Maris College for women


Visual Culture assignment 1

Nikita .A

Visual culture

The term visual culture encompasses many media forms ranging from fine arts to popular film and television to advertising to visual data in fields such as the science, law and medicine. The term culture refers to a whole way of life, meaning a broad range of activities geared towards classifying and communicating symbolically within a society. Visual culture is the shared practice of a group, community or society through which meanings are made out of the visual, aural and textual world of representation


Semiotics is the study of signs and signifying practices, is largely the creation of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and the American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce. Independently, they worked to better understand how certain structures were able to produce meaning rather than work on the traditional matter of meaning itself.

Saussure's work on semiotics is better known, and he argued that there was no inherent or necessary relationship between that which carries the meaning (the signifier, usually a word or symbol) and the actual meaning which is carried (the signified). For example, the word "car" is not actually a car - the meaning of car could be carried by any random string of letters. It just so happens that, in English, that meaning is carried by the letter c-a-r.

Peirce's ideas about semiotics distinguished between three types of signs: icon, index and symbol. Whether a sign belongs in one category or another is dependent upon the nature of its relationship between the sign itself (which he called the referent) and the actual meaning. An icon is a meaning which is based upon similarity or appearance (for example, similarity in shape).

Mosaic of Justinian and Theodora from the church of san Vitale in Rome

In the mosaic of Justinian and his retinue, Justinian is wearing the same imperial robes as Christ. This is very significant and symbolic. The purpose of the mosaic is to clearly depict Justinian as Christ's representative on earth, and to show him as a worthy successor to Constantine (referred to by the Chi-Rho shield of Constantine's) - to express his power as head of both Church and State. This power is further implied by the significant placement of the mosaics. Justinian is present in the main altar of the church, the most sacred part, where only the priest could stand. Thus, by including himself, Justinian wields his power over the priest, perhaps even suggesting his holiness, which is suggested through the halo. 

The mosaic displays obvious hierarchic characteristics in the symmetry, frontality, stiffness of pose, centrality of Justinian. He is portrayed as the saintly emperor eternally present at the celebration of the Mass in San Vitale. 

Opposite the Justinian mosaic is the Empress Theodora and her retinue. She is wearing the purple royal robe. She is also crowned with a halo. She is bringing a gift, echoed by the three magi bearing a gift which is embroidered on her robe. The prominent position of Theodora's mosaic shows her status as co-regent, it is subordinate to Justinian's only by being on Christ's left, a less exalted position than Christ's right. 

Theodora was known for her ravishing beauty as well as her ruthless manner and haughty disposition. She was responsible for Justinian's victory in Constantinople, he was going to flee, to give up, she refused, and so he stayed and consequently was victorious. Framed in huge, towering tiara with emeralds, pearls, diamonds, and sapphires, Theodora peers out, the proud queen. She died a year after this portrait was made. 

We can see in both works the lack of naturalism, the love for elaborate patterns and repetition. Their diagonal feet are not supported by a three-dimensional floor. A good example of typical Byzantine disregard for perspective can be found in the fountain in...
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