An image never represents a mere idea; it is never just an illustration. Thinking is constructed, shaped, and always develops through imagery. No thought comes to light, nor indeed casts a shadow, without being caused by an image, which itself becomes an insightful synthesis of a dimension of humanity. In this series (“Icons”), edited by Massimo Cacciari, authors from different backgrounds explore great icons of our cultural heritage – such as works by Mantegna, Pollock, Caravaggio, and Kiefer – that relate to key issues of our times.
The figure of Mary with her child has played an extraordinary role in European civilization. The image has taken on a variety of forms and been called and invoked with many, often contradictory, names. It has inspired our civilization to think of its relationship with the divine, God’s relationship with human history, but even the very essence of God. Why is God generated by a woman? Thinking about that Woman is a way to penetrate into the essence of God. And the great icons representing that Woman are not mere illustrations of ideas already defined in themselves, but signs of our progress towards the problem that God’s presence embodies. The most unsettling icons include the one painted by Andrea Mantegna, today displayed at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan.
Massimo Cacciari is professor emeritus of Philosophy at the San Raffaele University in Milano.
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