Questions about Popular Piety, Modes of Visual Perception, St. Francis’ Body as Image, and Embodied Perception!

Discussion Questions about Popular Piety and Modes of Visual Perception, St. Francis’ Body as Image, and Embodied Perception


  1. What are the reasons for the neglect of images in the 15th and 16th centuries according to Scribner?
  2. What is the role of the viewer vis a vis the Trout woodcut?
  3. Why is the IHS woodcut an all-purpose devotional aid?
  4. What are the characteristics of active images?
  5. What does Scribner mean by the sacramental gaze?
  6. How did the discoveries of Roger Bacon and Alberti impact contemporaries ways of seeing?
  7. What does the author mean by the sanctifying gaze?
  8. What is Belting’s formula for the transmission of images? Do you agree with him?
  9. In what way is St. Francis a “re-embodied” image of God?
  10. What were the challenges facing visual artists in depicting St. Francis?
  11. Discuss the idea of image as incorporation.
  12. Why are the wounds of St. Francis images in two respects?
  13. What is the iconization of the body and does it hurt?
  14. Was the body viewed as a pictorial medium?
  15. Do you think the rays emanating from the wounds of the seraph to St. Francis reflect contemporary optical theory?
  16. What are carnal formulae in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of art?
  17. How does Merleau-Ponty’s apprehension of meaning differ from say that outlined in the Ad. Heren.?
  18. How does Merleau-Ponty define an artist?
  19. In what way does art have social consequences?
  20. What is the relationship of art to perception according to Merleau-Ponty?

9 responses

  1. 12) Belting explains that the wounds of St. Francis are images in two respects “because they are products of his imagination and appear on his body as representation” (10). The wounds are inspired by the image of Christ and could be understood as a type of performance or mimesis. Also, because the wounds are an important symbol of Christ, St. Francis becomes an image, or representation, of him. Thus, the stigmata are images in the mind of Francis that also serve as a reproduction of Christ.

    15) I do think that the rays emanating from the wounds of the seraph to St. Francis reflect contemporary optical theory. If the wounds of St. Francis are indeed images, then it makes sense for them to operate under the same rules as vision. If people were questioning the miracle of the stigmata, it would make sense for artists to convey it in terms that were already familiar, making it more believable and convincing. Although the rays of the stigmata do not link physical surfaces with the surface of the eye, like optical rays would, they nonetheless connect two different types of surfaces: the supernatural and the human. Thus, in the sense that both rays connect different types of surfaces, they are similar.

  2. I agree with both of your responses, Hannah. How could the medieval person not draw the parallel between optical rays and the wounding rays of the stigmata received by St. Francis? The readings for this week certainly confirmed the notion of bodily vision. I think Belting’s article is very nuanced, though seeming quite straight forward. I think we are slowly but surely uncovering the deeper meanings of mimesis!

  3. 10. What were the challenges facing visual artists in depicting St. Francis?
    First thing that came to mind: Photography wasn’t invented so there wasn’t something for artists to reference to when trying to prove or show how St. Francis looked, also he had been dead for a while. Another issue artist had was the duality or ambivalent nature of St. Francis body; it looked like the body of the Crucified Christ and a regular human body. How does one illustrate the miracle of stigmata? How does one show how a person who was ‘possessed’ looks like?

  4. 14. Was the body viewed as a pictorial medium? I think so, I also think I can see St. Francis’ body as a sort of installation piece and God as the artist. I kind of see the stigmata being placed or installed on Saint Francis. His body was a space, a sort of canvas used to display (for the viewer) Christ’s wounds.

  5. 10. What were the challenges facing visual arts in depicting St. Francis?

    Franciscans sought to “explain the unexplainable” when coming to terms with the presence of stigmata on St. Francis’s body. Therefore it comes as no surprise that attempting to depict this extraordinary and complex event in a painting would be a challenge for any artist. Belting expresses that the issue wasn’t how to depict the stigmata but “the issue of representation had become an issue of the body as pictorial medium, as against panel painting or other pictorial media.” (4) Viewers needed to be able to look at this painting and instantly recognize that it was St. Francis. Reading Melissa’s earlier post about the absences of photography during this time would only make it harder for artists to accurately depict the recognizable features of St. Francis. On the other hand I suppose this would allow for more creative liberty, which would come into play when deciding how to fuse the image of St. Francis with the features of suffering Christ.

  6. Do you feel that Giotto or subsequent artists were successful in portraying this subject “creatively?” Do you know the painting by Giovanni Bellini in the Frick? It is one of my favorite paintings of this saint! Bellini captures the mood rather than the strict verbal truth of the event….Thank you for weighing in on this!

  7. 16. What are carnal formulae in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of art?

    Crowther gives an explanation on page 139 of carnal formulae, saying that “our knowledge of the world is… founded upon the body’s relating and habituating itself to things. Such encounters will leave behind the not so much mental ‘pictures’ or memory-images, as ‘carnal formulae’, i.e., structures constituted from all the sensory and affective life of the subject.” (139) Crowther goes on to say that these ‘carnal formulae’ can be “projected in thought or imagination” via language, independent of their original circumstances, which to me makes them nearly identical to memories. He says that they are not so much mental pictures, but I suppose they could be a sort of sense memory. In other words, carnal formulae seem to be memories in the sense that we as humans collect our interactions with objects (embodied forms) as memories, but not in the sense of memories as stored images (which may or may not be an accurate representations of how events actually happened.) One other important aspect of carnal formulae is that, unlike a memory, which can be described as an ingrained image, carnal formulae are dynamic, and each new interaction with an object can change our perception of future objects.

  8. Did you find this concept of carnal formulae at all useful? (A useful fiction as it were?) Or is it just another way of saying “bodily knowing?” I love the analogy to memories—again, to remember is to know again—and I believe in a sense that is what he is saying!

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