What are these characteristics that distinguish the image from fully lived life? The first is that every image requires a support—wall or stone or canvas or paper, or at least the idea of such a support. And this is so because the support immediately means a delimitation, a framing, which suggests that the things and beings the image seems to evoke are situated in an authentic place, with its own space and even its own light. The frame confers a semblance of reality on the image, and it is from the frame that this illusion derives its capacity to endure beyond the moment of reverie. It confers credibility on it, but first and foremost it confers authority, at a level we might call ontological—the level at which decisions are made regarding what is and is not. From which it follows, indeed, that the usual complement of the frame, in the image that it renders credible, is a certain point among the figures which seems to provide the foundation for the being the image claims to possess. This is the case with Pharaoh’s daughter in Poussin’s Moses Saved from the River: she is a beautiful, standing figure, full of authority and the very centre, we might believe, of the harmonious proportions which present themselves as reality in the conception this picture has of it.
The fact remains that no image structure is complete reality. This schematic representation may gather up a great deal of the appearance of things, but, first, it inevitably leaves outside itself, for example, that which conceptualization suppresses and wishes to forget—namely, the finitude within what is, and the way of seeing the world and life of those who haven’t forgotten their own finitude. The image cannot express this inwardness of existing beings, which is, indeed, essentially temporal.
And it is a fact that in many images the hint of a level—their unconscious—peeps through, at which there is still an awareness of that limit, and the idea that a world exists outside those images. We even see them attempting to ward off this “outside” by heading off the encounter with it and striving to convince themselves that nothing in it will elude their idea of the real: that nothing in it will manifest that element of chance which is what they fear most. There is, in fact, no room in images for chance. What might seem to signify such a thing has been surreptitiously removed. The folds in the Virgin’s gown in an altarpiece, the cat that seems to be present by chance in an Annunciation by Lorenzo Lotto are, in fact, the product of the needs, desires and fatalities inherent in the painter’s dream. There is no element of chance in the field of the image! This particular throw of the dice has truly abolished it. Yet chance exists, nonetheless, at the margins of the work in the daily existence of its creator, and, as a result, the image, however affirmative it may be, always has an underlying disquiet to it, which, we might surmise, may even be what lends some paintings their restless, fevered beauty.