City governance and visual impression management: visual semiotics and the Biccherna panels of Siena

Jane Davison, Elena Giovannoni

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A major preoccupation in the contemporary organizational landscape is governance and how to cope with conflict and uncertainty. These challenges are particularly evident in the governance of cities, with their complex histories, politics and administrative processes. We argue that visual artefacts can form powerful visual impression management, constituting ‘visual governance’, for dealing with such complexities. We construct a framework from the visual semiotics of Umberto Eco, extended by medieval aesthetics. We analyse the pre-modern case of the Sienese Biccherna panels (painted covers and paintings linked to the city accounts) to show how their calligraphy, heraldry and pictures convey idealised reassuring images of orderly administration, in times of complicated, disordered underlying realities. In demonstrating how art and accounting are intertwined as tools of governance, and that there are contemporary resonances in corporate annual reporting, we add both to research in governance and to visual organizational research, and pave the way for further interdisciplinary work on the relationship between art and organizations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
Early online date17 Jul 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jul 2022

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