‘Style is like a rainbow’ : The need of a system of formal relations in digital art history

Activity: Talk or presentationAcademic


In his seminal work The Shape of Time (1962), the art historian George Kubler compared style with a rainbow to stress that it can only perceived on a coincidental moment in time and place. In a later publication “Period, Style and Meaning in Ancient American Art”, Kubler stated “style pertains to timelessness” to elaborate on the limitations of this concept for periodization. For Kubler not only the history of style, but also descriptions of meaning of art (such as iconography) were too limited. Instead, he proposed seeing art (in the widest sense of man-made object) “as a system of formal relations”. In a previous study [1] we explored the implications Kubler’s replacement of style by “solutions” as input for modeling and visualizing periodization. However, our model needs to be worked out in more detail not only in the linked data paradigm, but also to get a grip on computer vision of art using artificial intelligence. In this presentation – building on the previous study Hypericonics of Gerhard Jan Nauta (1993) - the unpublished classification system developed by Henri van de Waal (the inventor of Iconclass) in the 1950/70s called Beeldleer (Iconology/Iconics) will be explored as a potential framework to describe structural forms and formal relations in “the making of art” in addition to/separable from symbolic expressions of meaning and of connoisseurship.
Period17 Oct 2022
Event titleStyles Revisited From Iconology to Digital Image Studies
: Artl@s/Visual Contagions-Monthly Seminar Universiy of Geneva
Event typeSeminar
LocationGeneve, Switzerland
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • ontologies
  • digital art history
  • beeldleer
  • iconclass
  • Henri van de Waal
  • George Kubler
  • periodization