Images are not innocent. Even though they arise from us, and often are made by us, they face and challenge us as if they lived a life of their own. Once they have appeared or have been produced, they acquire separate existence and indisputable reality of independent beings, which populate and shape our outer and inner world. As sensitive or imagined bodies they enter in resonance with our own sentient and imagining body. Human body is indeed the “locus of images” incessantly moving and acting on the ever-changing scene of our memory and imagination (i.e. of our own ‘fluctuating’ Self): thereby images are responsible for what we are as well as for what we wish (or dream) to be. Images are not innocent because they are neither inert nor lifeless. We are never safe in the presence of images: they can be alluring or frightening, reassuring or threatening, familiar or disquieting, lifesaving or harmful; they can impede or elicit action. Such irreducible ontological problematic, yet unmistakably empathic, nature of our relationship with images, is, in this essay, surveyed in the light of the reflections of Aby Warburg and Italo Calvino. Warburg’s theory of Pathosformeln and Calvino’s account of the role of visual images in his own verbal narratives, then provide the theoretical horizon for interpreting the narration by images sculpted by the medieval architect Biduinus on the façade of the XII century church of Saint Casciano of Cascina, near Pisa, and thereby unfolding the symbolical, iconological and metaphysical implications of its powerfully empathic imagery.
images, words, memory, empathy, pathosformel, Warburg, Calvino, Biduinus