Category Archives: The Rhetoric of the Image by Roland Barthes

Review of Rhetoric of the Image by Roland Barthes

This essay. like Death of the Author, complicates a relatively simply concept, the analysis of the image.

Barthes uses an advertisement for Italian pasta and sauce to demonstrate how we can read images. Firstly the image is ‘anchored‘ with a caption or some form of written message. This message remote controls our interpretation of the image. It is what the image author or creator wants us to see. It does not necessarily contain all the truth or all the information. It is a very biased message.

In certain images, mostly cartoons and comic strips,  the anchor is replaced by a relay. This is a written message which is in synchronisation with the image. Both image and text are co-dependent.

An image then has coded messages which give a certain connotation to the resultant composition. In his example this is demonstrated in the name of the product, Panzini, which give a certain “Italianicity” to the product for non Italians. The presence of fresh products along with the dried and tinned ones gives the impression of freshness. The way the products spill out of the string bag, on to the kitchen table, is presented in a still life style. Altogether we could almost believe that Panzini is a ready made meal, that Panzini is offering us a service.

Then there is the non coded message, the denoted one. This is simply all the elements that go to make up the image which will be present however many coded message that will be superimposed on them. In the example it is the pasta, the tine, the tomato etc.

The whole ensemble, taken together goes to make up what Barthes calls the rhetoric of the image.