Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Iconicity and Network Thinking in Picasso's Guernica: A Study of Creativity Across the Boundaries
Chiara Ambrosio
2nd Author
3rd Author
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Number of Pages
520 (2 vols.)
University College London - University of London
Thesis Supervisor
Prof. Arthur I. Miller
Supervisor e-mail
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Science and Technology Studies
Languages Familiar to Author
English, Italian, French, Spanish, Greek
URL where full thesis can be found
Picasso; Guernica; Iconicity; Homomorphism; Network Thinking; Representations; Semiotics;
Abstract: 200-500 words
My thesis is an interdisciplinary exploration of the influence of science and technology upon artistic representation with reference to Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting, Guernica. I propose a concept of homomorphic representation to account for the conceptual nature of Picasso’s painting and interpret his use of geometry as a cognitive vehicle to attain such a conceptual representation. I developed the concept of homomorphism from a scholarly study of Charles Sanders Peirce’s notion of semiotic iconicity. Iconicity is a structural relation established through an act of cognition between representing facts and represented objects in a representation. A theory of iconicity as homomorphism satisfactorily accounts for structure preservation in representations, independently of a literal correspondence between representing facts and perceptual data. Thus defined, iconicity casts new light on the representative relation governing Guernica. The canvas does not literally “resemble” the historical facts for which it stands –at most it “evokes” them. The representative force of Guernica depends on its conceptual core, the roots of which are found in Picasso’s experimentations across the boundaries of art and science. Through an analysis of over forty preparatory drawings and the seven stages of the canvas in progress, I assess the import of scientific and technological discoveries upon Picasso’s representation and argue that the preconditions to Guernica are found in his formative years, in which he developed Cubism. The reconstruction of Picasso’s Cubist production serves a twofold purpose: to explore the relationship between art, science and technology at the beginning of the 20th Century and to state a correspondence between certain scientific, philosophical and technological issues and the creation of Guernica. Among the topics that influenced Picasso’s creativity towards Guernica, I emphasize the role of non-Euclidean geometries and the debate concerning the nature of space and time, a notion of psychology of form and the development of modern technologies of warfare. Among the preparatory drawings for Guernica, I stress the importance of sketch 15, dated May 9, 1937, in which Picasso clearly adopted a cubist resolution for the canvas. I argue that sketch 15 crystallyzed Picasso’s reflections on scientific themes, and in particular his understanding of the visual potentialities of non-Euclidean geometries. From a theoretical viewpoint, the cubist roots of sketch 15 make it an outstanding example of iconic representation in a strictly Peircean sense – a conceptual representation based on structure preservation, which dispenses from a point-to-point correspondence with perceptual data.