But… ethically, if we think about the caption more as part of the book than as an element that accompanies the artwork, the historian has a say. For example, the caption of Fig. 181 in Burckhardt’s Civilization raises interesting questions about the responsibility of the historian, editor and publisher for updating locations of artworks that have changed since the book was written, and since its first publication. The caption of Fig. 181, Portrait of a Young Woman by Bastiano Mainardi (1460-1513), indicates that the painting is in Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin. However, in 1956 the museum was renamed after its founder and first director Wilhelm von Bode (1845-1929). Though the 1958 edition was published after the museum was renamed, it still uses its previous name. Should creators of new editions ensure the accuracy of the information conveyed in captions? If yes, it means that each edition entails historical research. If no, the captions themselves become part of history, featuring some kind of “authenticity,” even if it confuses the readers.
What is the ethical status of image captions in books? Do they belong to anyone, and are they under someone’s responsibility? Are the ethical questions about them also questions about art and its identification as commodity that is always associated with fixed body and time? And, lastly, when we talk about “body,” can we refer to the universal “body of art” and universal “body of books” at the same time, and expect that when one of them changes the other, because both belong to a single material world, changes as well?
Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. New York: Harper & Row, 1958
Left image: Noa Yaari, Bode Museum, 2015
Right image: Bastiano Mainardi, A Portrait of a Woman, 15th Century, Tempera on wood, 44 x 33 cm. Bode Museum, Berlin (source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sebastiano_mainardi_04.jpg)