Alfred Stevens – Challenge: iconographic analysis of the 1867 painting “the Bath”


Today we propose a small art analysis game based on Alfred Stevens ‘ painting – The Bath.

O Banho, 1867 – Alfred Stevens (Musée d’Orsay

The Bath, 1867 – Alfred Stevens (Musée d’Orsay)


This game consists of the application of the 3 levels of iconographic analysis proposed by Erwin Panofsky to the work of Alfred Stevens.

You will find in this article:

1 – A synthetic presentation of the method of analysis.

2 – A closed tab with the proposed resolution of this challenge. You can open it whenever you want, but we advise you to open it only after taking your notes regarding the analysis of the painting.

3 – Finally, we will talk a little about Alfred Stevens.

Learn more about iconographic analysis of artworks

Panofsky’s 3 levels of analysis

Although currently some of the interpretations of works of art made by Erwin Panofsky are questioned by some art historians, it is certain that Panofsky understood art as no historian had before, assuming Iconography as a discipline.

In 1939, Panofsky presents his iconological method of analyzing the work of art.

For him, the analysis could not depend only on literary sources, because they do not always exist.

Thus, he begins to investigate the way in which, according to the different historical conditions to which he is subject, the artist chooses the theme, object or fact. He proceeds to study the meaning.

Panofsky gave this same example:

A man raises his hat.

In iconographic terms, we basically see is the action in which a man takes his hat off his head.

However, analysing it under an iconological point of view, there is a meaning to the gesture. If we assume that we have two people involved (the one who sees the action and the one who acts it) who are familiar to the western culture, they will know that it is a gesture of friendliness and respect.

However, reaching this level of understanding depends on a prior knowledge of the social values that involve this same gesture.

And so Panofsky identifies the three levels of understanding

1 – The primary or natural. (what?)
2 – The secondary or conventional. (who where?)
3 – The tertiary or intrinsic. (why, how?)

The primary level should correspond to the most basic level of understanding, i.e. the natural perception of the work.

The second level of understanding requires a certain iconographic knowledge, to the extent that this is the interpretation of the message and its meaning.

For the third and final level of interpretation, the observer not only receives and interprets the message contained within the representation, but also seeks to interpret it under an historical point of view, looking for social and cultural interrelations that might broaden the meaning.

Challenge – “The Bath” by Alfred Stevens 1867

Look carefully at the image. Try to answer the questions proposed in the analysis method described above.

1 – what?

2 – who, when, where?

3 – why, how?

O Banho, 1867 – Alfred Stevens (Musée d’Orsay

The Bath, 1867 – Alfred Stevens (Musée d’Orsay

Alfred Stevens

Alfred Émile Léopold Stevens (11 May 1823 – 24 August 1906) was a Belgian painter who achieved great success in his time, especially with paintings of elegant women.

He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels and exhibited at the Salons in Brussels and Paris.

His works earned him substantial income. However, these did not withstand some bad investments and large expenditures and Stevens lived the end of his life in Paris, alone and in modest rooms.

Alfred Stevens was attentive to the social reality of his time portrayed in this work from the beginning of his career “What is Called Vagrancy or, The Hunters of Vincennes” from 1854.

Alfred Stevens What is Called Vagrancy or, The Hunters of Vincennes

But Alfred Stevens is undoubtedly associated with portraits of elegant women, whether in intimate environments, such as “The Bath”, or integrated into landscapes.

Alfred Stevens The Psyché (My Studio),c.1871

Alfred Stevens The Psyché (My Studio),c.1871


Alfred Stevens Portrait of Mrs. Howe 1900

Alfred Stevens Portrait of Mrs. Howe 1900


Alfred Stevens an elegant woman 1884

Alfred Stevens Elegant woman 1884


Alfred Stevens Afternoon at the Park 1885

Alfred Stevens Afternoon at the Park 1885


The artist was not indifferent to the fascination caused by oriental art. Like the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, Japonism had a clear influence on Stevens’ work.

Alfred Stevens The japanese parisian 1872

Alfred Stevens The japanese parisian 1872

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