Art historian Edwin Panofsky helped create the foundations for art history in the early twentieth century. He is best known for his development and work in Iconography. Primarily applied to Renaissance and Baroque art, this methodology deconstructs the t Art historian Edwin Panofsky helped create the foundations for art history in the early twentieth century. He is best known for his development and work in Iconography. Primarily applied to Renaissance and Baroque art, this methodology deconstructs the three levels of meaning and subject matter present in every visual image; natural subject matter, conventional subject matter, and intrinsic meaning. The natural subject matter is the main subject matter; what is interpreted when the image is first seen without any kind of analysis. The second level is conventional or iconographic, where the viewer begins to analyze the work of art using his or her cultural knowledge. Intrinsic meaning, the third level, is the historical meaning. Drawing from his 1947 essay “Style and Medium in Motion Pictures,” I will begin by applying these levels to works of modern art. Through this exercise I will demonstrate the uses and also limitations of this method. In this paper I will argue that the limitations presented when applied to modern art are due to Panofsky’s understanding of historical distance. His necessity for historical distance from a work of art was, and continues to be an issue for the study of modern and contemporary art. I will end by discussing the relevance of historical distance in current art historical scholarship.

Art historian Edwin Panofsky helped create the foundations for art history in the early twentieth century. He is best known for his development and work in Iconography. Primarily applied to Renaissance and Baroque art, this methodology deconstructs the t

Art historian Edwin Panofsky helped create the foundations for art history in the early twentieth century. He is best known for his development and work in Iconography. Primarily applied to Renaissance and Baroque art, this methodology deconstructs the three levels of meaning and subject matter present in every visual image; natural subject matter, conventional subject matter, and intrinsic meaning. The natural subject matter is the main subject matter; what is interpreted when the image is first seen without any kind of analysis. The second level is conventional or iconographic, where the viewer begins to analyze the work of art using his or her cultural knowledge. Intrinsic meaning, the third level, is the historical meaning. Drawing from his 1947 essay “Style and Medium in Motion Pictures,” I will begin by applying these levels to works of modern art. Through this exercise I will demonstrate the uses and also limitations of this method. In this paper I will argue that the limitations presented when applied to modern art are due to Panofsky’s understanding of historical distance. His necessity for historical distance from a work of art was, and continues to be an issue for the study of modern and contemporary art. I will end by discussing the relevance of historical distance in current art historical scholarship.