The interpretation of pictures by Mark W. Roskill

By Mark W. Roskill

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Within it, the events of differing shape and substance that are marshaled and brought together line themselves up as leading to the end result with what seems like a compressed inevitability. The crucial distinction lies not so much, then, in added knowledge as in the specificity and focus with which this knowledge is deployed, to give Page 11 the sense of a new purchase gained on what happened, as in the dénouement of a drama of revelation about a set of events in the distant past. The central task of interpretation is usually taken to be the proposing of meaning, symbolism, or signification.

And there was divination, which treated images as coded communications like oracular tablets or the sealed books of sects, yielding themselves to the understanding only of those with privileged access to the key. A leading example of ekphrasis, from the mid-sixteenth century, is provided by the letter of Lodovico Dolce to Alessandro Contarini on the subject of Titian's Venus and Adonis: One sees Adonis moving, and his movement is easy, vigorous and gentle in its temper . . he turns his face towards Venus with lively and smiling eyes .

These implications form part of what will be termed here the tenor of the account that is given. Tenor, as used in the theory of communication through imaginative and poetic language (especially the work of I. A. Richards) distinguishes itself from vehicle. The substance of what is said provides the vehicle, as most simply in the case of a joke or jest, while the orientation or affiliation of the message thereby sent (recognized when a jest is called barbed, or a joke ethnic) constitutes the tenor.

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