Quotations, references and interlanguage in a Buddhist shrine

The categories of “quotation” (literal or semi-literal and acknowledged reuse), “reference” (paraphrase, often unacknowledged) and “interlanguage” (floating ideas common to a whole cultural milieu) have been distinguished and discussed (in Freschi 2015, special issue of the JIPh) in regard to texts. Accordingly, a quotation is an instance in which a text passage is purposefully acknowledged as belonging to a different work and reused with little or no modifications. Quotations are often linked to the desire to enhance the value of one’s work by appeal to the authority of a different one. However, at the same time, quoting a work means distantiating oneself from it.

By contrast, a reference reuses a text without mentioning that it is being reused and usually in a looser way. No explicit appeal to the authority of the previous text is made, although in some cultural milieus (see again Freschi 2015 for the case of philosophical schools in Classical India) the reuse of materials of the same milieus is consciously or subconsciously recognised by the audience who thus accepts the new work as part of their own cultural milieu.

Amorino at Miran M III (wikipedia)

Last, the category of interlanguage points to a wide-spread reuse of a motif which is so common that authors just reuse it without any further thought, as if it belonged to their basic tool kit. Similarly, the audience does not perceive interlanguage as a distinct element of a given work and they do not acknowledge it as pointing to some other work.

Already Bignami 2015 (in the same issue of JIPh) has suggested to apply these category to the history of art. The following examples discuss possible applications:

  1. the term quotation could cover cases such as Andy Warhol’s reuse of well-known works of art (notably the Mona Lisa) within his creations. In fact, in this case, the reuse is acknowledged and the viewers need to be aware of the original painting for the mechanism to work.
  2. the term reference could cover cases such as the reuse of a content without a specific form, as in the above=mentioned case of Motycka’s Christ which reuses the motif of the crucified Christ although it does not reuse a specific representation of him.
  3. the term interlanguage could cover cases such as the diffusion of Corinthian columns throughout the Roman Empire. Their use outside of Greece was in fact no longer linked to a specific geographic area and readers were not reminded of a single building whose style would have been reused. They were just the shared common language for prestige buildings.\footnote{By contrast, the reuse of the same Corinthian columns in Washington D.C. is a case of reference, since it did not represent the obvious way of building and it rather clearly referred to the classical model of ancient Greece, trying to evoke democracy and other classical ideas.

More in detail, the use of references may be part of an important legitimizing strategy also in history of art (as it is the case in Classical Indian philosophy, see above), since the conscious reuse of a motif which is familiar to one’s audience can be a device used by artists in order to be accepted by the audience. A typical example might be a religious work of art including iconographic elements of a well-known depiction of the same theme. This example also shows how the boundaries between quotation, reference and interlanguage are in art-history, just like in textual history, blurred. The reuse of the Amorini or of the garland-bearers in Buddhist art in Central Asia , for instance, seems today to be a case of interlanguage. However, for the coeval viewers of the paintings at the Miran’s shrines labelled as M III and M IV (see Lo Muzio 2014) the link with a single well-known model, perhaps circulating through note-books might have been so evident that we should rather speak of a quotation (see Filigenzi 2006 for the thesis that the paintings at Miran M III and M IV were inspired by Gandharan ones at Saidu Sharif, in Swat, perhaps through the medium of reproductions in painted albums), perhaps aiming at enhance the prestige of one’s site by linking it ideally with a famous one, as it happened in the case of Roman reproductions of Greek statues. Last, the same kind of reuses could be conceived as instances of reference if they were reusing a specific motif without reproducing it exactly nor presupposing that the viewers would have noted the reference, as perhaps suggested by Bussagli’s comparison of the same Miran paintings with the 1st–3rd c. Gandharan sculptures in Bussagli 1963.

As usual, categorizations are only useful if they serve to understand phenomena or to draw similarities and differences one would not have been able to understand otherwise. Do these categories help you in this sense?

This blogpost is part of my series on reuse in art (see here). It has further been inspired by a lecture at the ISTB by Ciro Lo Muzio (who is not at all responsible for my interpretation of the data, nor for the mistakes I may have added).

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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