Carolin Behrmann

Forming Norms. Observation and the Agency of Images

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Although our contemporary world is pervasively artifactual, artistic practice and artifacts are usually excempt from reflections about normative orders with juridical validity. This article investigates into the domain and processuality of norms in early modern thinking, and the stake of visual constitutions that have a crucial part in the expression of normative facticity. The manifold question of how visual images constitute to the process of forming norms, is approached exemplarily through the question of the observation and agency of images, that are at the same time culturally coined and open to other meaning. The article reflects about different visualizations that constitute normative orders, such as the combinational logic of emblems (Achille Bocchi), architectural rules (Vignola) and the performativity of ceremonial practice in Ghirlandaio’s frescoes in the Cappella Sassetti (Aby Warburg). It also investigates the significance of ethnological practice and comparisons for art historical thinking since the nineteenth century, the importance of observation that valued artifacts as visual agents.


  • artifactuality
  • processuality of norms
  • obiter depicta
  • emblems
  • architecture
  • Aby Warburg
  • ethnological jurisprudence


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