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Iconography in Greek Mythology

Art is not and has never been naive. From the earliest times to the present day, man has used art as a mechanism of communication in order to achieve a goal, which has changed over the ages. The quest to communicate is what has prevailed in the development of art. Throughout the history that we know until today, we have seen this intention on the part of a great variety of artists who have sought through time to represent their context, the world that surrounds them, and their own inner world. From prehistory to performance art, from the cave to the museum, the aim has been the same: to leave a mark; to leave a record that we were here, that we felt, that we lived and had experiences that deserve to be portrayed through a wide variety of media. Art has been a vehicle for communicating denunciation that seeks to shout at the masses; that manifestation that seeks to express what words fall short of.

With words - specifically with language - communication becomes borderline, and the transmission of ideas suffers various obstacles. However, since time immemorial, images have served as a way of establishing links that go beyond territories: it is then that communication becomes universal. And it is precisely this very special character that connects us all, even if we come from different parts of the planet; this is what makes us feel part of a whole, of a collective nucleus, and of the same history, which we have shared since prehistoric times. What difference is there between that caveman who decided to capture the outline of his hand with a Mondrian painting? The answer is none. Both sought to leave their mark in time, to be remembered, to capture that idea in a physical medium so that others could understand that their passage through this life was not in vain.

Rock Art Photography. Cueva de las Manos, Argentina

In this way, man has acquired a large repertoire of symbols that function as social conventions in order to approach an interpretation of what the artist wanted to communicate. Images are, therefore, a reflection of a wide variety of issues, from personal, social, political and collective. They are therefore a way of understanding history and how it has developed. Images speak in a universal language through symbols, and knowing about them is what helps us to understand Art History in a more globalised way, and it is here where the field of iconography takes centre stage as the discipline that allows us to know the content of a work by virtue of its specific characteristics and its relationship with certain literary sources; it is the discipline of the description and classification of images (García Mahíques, 2008). Thanks to the iconographic study of a work, it is possible to understand not only what is represented, but also the intention, the context and even the intrinsic world of the artist, making art in general more meaningful. Iconography helps us to understand what we often overlook when visiting a museum; it helps us to understand our history and our attempts to understand each other.

The main objective of this series of articles will be to understand the importance of iconography for Art History and how it serves as a fundamental tool for interpretation. This will be demonstrated by taking Greek mythology as the main focus of analysis. Fundamental mythological beings and deities such as Prometheus, Zeus, Pandora, Heracles and Aphrodite will be analysed from an iconographic perspective. We will analyse how each of them has been represented in art from the most ancient to the most recent times in order to demonstrate an evolution in the way myth has been perceived. In order to do this, it is necessary to theorise and explore iconography and its importance in art.

The term - and the discipline itself - developed between the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, standing out above all as an auxiliary science to history in general (Depeaux, 1936). This connotation is given by the research of the Austrian archaeologist Emanuel Löwy (1857-1938) who tried to give a general foundation to the historical study of ancient art. His analyses reveal a concern for iconography in the context of the artistic production of Greek craftsmen. As is well known, artists in ancient Greece were specialists in a particular craft in which a traditional heritage of techniques and iconographies necessary to achieve a certain degree of quality was formed (García Mahíques, 2008). Löwy is considered to be the first to determine that there was an iconographic constant in the compositional schemes of craftsmen. "When a workshop or an artist invented a plausible way of representing something, they were codified in civilisation" (García Mahíques, 2008). That is to say, the artist