The relationship between caption and illustration is only possible to understand if in them we consider text and image, repectively. This means that it is in light of the articulation between text and image that this binomial can be read. Western culture inexorably linked text and image. Thus, it is difficult for us today to have a naked eye towards the Palaeolithic drawings, especially to those of Côa. These images, despite elaborating the reality from which they depart, they are nude images, in the sense that they are not related to any specific meaning and even less to any text. They are of the order of image-related transcription of a reality that aims to appropriate and invest in the significations. They do not fit, on the one hand, into the relationship of illustration, that is so familiar to us, and on the other, of the image that the caption anchors. That is, its nudity, given that no caption, no title returns the meanings found in them and articulated by them. That is why the Côa images require an effort of deprivation of the image, concerning meaning, concerning its verbal translation (although we may always say: this is a wild ox), concerning the text of which they would be eventual illustrations.
The binomial caption / illustration reveals exactly the type of commitment of the images in Western culture, since the appearance of writing, more precisely in its connection to the Book, that is, to certain sacred texts that marked our civilization. The commitment between an image and writing, as Anne-Marie Christin states, is producer of meaning and determines the reading of the image, regardless of its visibility.
If the diversity of hybrid objects today shows the various possibilities of association between text and image, from the cartoon to advertisement, the dependency of the image concerning the text marked the history of the reading of sacred images, for example. Louis Marin refers to this close inter-relationship that ends up conditioning the actual perception of the images in the West: “everything is text and image when we start to observe more closely, everything is made of this intertwining of language and of image (1986:134). Images are created from textual referents, whether they are mythical narratives or sacred narratives, in such a way that, whether the text has them or whether they are absent, it is always mandatory that the image refers to “the text rather than the image work as an illustration.” (Ibid). Therefore, Louis Marin states, “What is recognizing a theme? It is recognizing the text that is next to the image. An illustration is a well delimited case.” An image is anchored in the topic and is dependent, which means that its reading will always consist of a remission to the narrative, the event or the figure represented in it. Western iconography is an example of this, making an effort to read all the images in light of the texts that they are supposed to represent. The image illustrates the text in Christian tradition. Not being an iconoclast like other civilizations of the Book, the Christian religion resorts to a systematic subordination of the (sacred) image to the (sacred) text. Thereby, the mural paintings about the life of Christ and/or the saints, such as Saint Francis of Assisi immortalised by Giotto, accompanied or not by text or caption, are always subordinated to the previous narrative that supplies them with the key to reading and meditation. An illuminated manuscript is also an example of an image that is intrinsically dependent on a text. Just like what was practiced on the pre-modern text, the illuminated manuscript was an illustrated text with double meaning: not only did the image represent the text, making figures, attitudes or actions many times from the order of the sacred narratives described in it visible, it also ornamented the writing, namely the first letter, embellishing it and making it unique. In both cases, the dependency of the image in relation to the text was the rule.
On the other hand, a text functions as a caption of the image, also in Western painting, as long as this one, not related to the sacred, introduced a title with the name of the work. In the pictorial space, the text serves as the caption of the image and therefore determines the reading codes, if not exhaustively, at least in a determining way. The title is used to resolve the polysemy of the image until the moment in which, unarticulated of it, it may nominate, not what the image allows to see, but that which is missing, such is the use made of it with modernism . Modernism in arts caused this recentralization and autonomy of each semiotic regime, separating text from image, music from text, etc.
In this text and image relationship, there is still to refer to the calligram technique, which merges image and text, letter and design. Unlike the letter of the alphabet that is always of the conventional symbol order and, unlike the drawing that as a representation technique is of the iconic order, in calligram the writing becomes iconic in that the letter, in its syntactic linearity draws that which it denominates. Michel Foucault defines calligram by this fusion that it has as a result: “it lodges the utterances in the space of the figure and makes the text say what the drawing represents” Each text and image possess its reading specificity given that the representation by the image assumes similarity, thus its iconic value, while the representation by the language assumes difference, hence the conventionality. Unlike the ideogram or the pictogram, alphabetical writing inexorably separates language from the image, while the big narratives intertwine them again.
Apart from writing, but also free of hypothetical narratives associated to them, the Paleolithic drawings in general and of Côa in particular present themselves as free images. It is in this aspect they are modern, hence a certain discomfort of reading but also, we could say, a certain updating of the status of these images that are autonomous of the word, nude, even if the language has allowed the elaboration of meaning of which they are silent carriers.
Revista de Comunicação e Linguagens, nº3 –Textualidades, Porto, Afrontamento, Junho de 1986, pp. 133 – 141.