The rhetoric of the image

The rhetoric of the image

I have not read this for a while so it was good to come back to it afresh; is it still important, relevant of passe? (Barthes, 1977).

  1. SIGNS AND SIGNIFIERS: It is a classic work looking at the commodification of images, in this case creating ‘Italianicity’ through carefully place signs in the frame, and how meaning is created from images. His use of signs and signifiers and denotation and connotation and clear and very helpful in interpreting the meaning from any image. He makes the point that the four signs in this image “form a coherent whole.” This is helpful, especially in designed complex images such as this, as I sometimes dismiss other items in the image and only interpret the major items seen. 
  2. ICONIC MESSAGE AND ‘MESSAGE WITHOUT A CODE:’ He states that there are three message; the linguistic message, then the coded iconic message then the non-coded iconic message? What does this mean? 
  3. THE LINGUISTIC MESSAGE: “The linguistic message is a denoted description that literally answers the question — what is it? Language in this case is used to purely and simply identify the essential elements of the scene and the scene itself, guiding the readers to the intended interpretation” (Lanir, 2019). I think that mean just what it is, pasta and vegetables. Interesting idea that “all images are polysemous; they imply, underlying their signifiers, a “floating chain” of signifieds, the reader able to choose some and ignore others (p156). The text in the image helps to “fix” the meaning of these signifiers and it does this by ANCHORAGE which is often textual. Another idea here is about RELAY which is the complementary use of text to carry the image as in the speech bubble of a cartoon. 
  4. THE DONOTED IMAGE: “In summary we can say: The photographic image is a message without a code, it’s continuous. At the same time, it is a connotative message, but not at the level of the message itself, but at the level of its production and reception.” What does this mean? I think it means that the reality of something in the frame does not need a code because it is there. 
  5. RHETORIC: Is the “set of connotations a rhetoric, rhetoric thus appearing as the signifying aspect of the ideology.” 

How might I apply this to my work

I think that Barthes provides a vocabulary for describing the image and what it does to generate meaning and I am using some of these ideas in my essay.


Barthes, R. (1977) ‘The rhetoric of the image.’ In: Image-Music-Text. New York: Hill and Wang. At: (Accessed 06/11/2020).

Lanir, L. (2019) Barthes’ Linguistic Messages — Anchoring and Relaying. At: