Politics of the Image

The research project “Politics of the Image: The Portrait of the Author as Iconic Authorisation” was comprised of three subprojects: The Early Modern Portrait of the Author as a Publishing Product (Wolfenbüttel), Image Politics in Weimar around 1800 (Weimar), and Poets and Scholars in Photography (Marbach). These were supervised by Hole Rößler, Henrike Haug, Lea Hagedorn, Christian Hecht, Sophie Borges, Ellen Strittmatter and Daniel Berndt, respectively.

Images are effective instruments for shaping public opinion and cultural (self-)perception. The title itself, “Politics of the Image”, refers to this potential and extends far beyond the actual political arena to all cultural fields – business, science, education, religion, art and sports. Indeed, it has shaped the formation of many different and historically variable practices. We generally apply the term “image politics” to describe all methods of using images strategically when interacting with large groups of addressees.

Within this analytical frame, the research project examined the multifaceted area of the authorial portrait. With respect to various historical periods, artistic genres and contexts, it investigated the production conditions and functionalisation of images, created explicitly or primarily for the public portrayal of authors. The researchers examined the specific social, economic and artistic productivity which these images generated, as well as the conditions under which they became a part of a cultural imagology. Based on the key concept of iconic authorisation, the project focused on authentication, verification and valorisation of works, individuals and media, all of which are central functions of the authorial portrait. In this regard, the term possesses three heuristic dimensions which shaped the analytical approach to the research methods and investigative fields in all three subprojects.

The Early Modern Portrait of the Author as a Publishing Product (Wolfenbüttel)

Based on the assumption that the authorial portrait is not a pictorial genre in its own right, this MWW subproject investigated the practices of the scholarly portrait from which the image of the author derives, and what image-political relevance it possesses. The idea of a specific productivity which is inherent to the authorial portrait is largely based on its affiliation with the paramedial apparatus of a book; it was only through its epi- or perimedial use that the portrait of the scholar underwent a functional transformation. The printing houses of early modern times played an essential role in creating, disseminating and reviewing authorial portraits. They staged these “authentic” representations of the author as the “supporting pillars” of the scholarly republic, without which the public distribution of intellectual and cultural assets would have hardly been possible. The subproject examined early modern portraits of authors as the central feature of publishers’ self-presentation and product placement efforts.

Hole Rößler (2014–2017), Henrike Haug (2017), Lea Hagedorn (2017–2018)

Image Politics in Weimar around 1800 (Weimar)

In this subproject, researchers conducted a comprehensive interpretation of the image politics during the era of Weimar Classicism. From the dense network of relationships to which Goethe, Herder, Wieland and Schiller belonged, as well as Duke Carl August, his mother Anna Amalia and the entrepreneur Friedrich Justin Bertuch, evolved artistic and commercial strategies whose purpose was to highlight Weimar’s artistic and cultural status. At the centre of these were portraits of Goethe, especially those painted during his Italian journey and which still serve as reference points for the portraits of many other artists to this day.

Christian Hecht (2014–2018), Sophie Borges (2015–2016, 2017–2018)

Poets and Scholars in Photography (Marbach)

This subproject conducted at the DLA Marbach investigated the relationship of literary and philosophical authors to their respective portraits. Ever since the advent of photography, experts have investigated what constitutes staged and spontaneous forms of expression of genius in the photographic medium, what marketing strategies are used by authors, and to what extent publishers and legatees have exerted influence on cultural and commemorative policy. To this end, the project comparatively analysed pictorial and written sources, iconographic traditions and poetological intentions. The researchers especially focused on the relationship between the poet’s imago and image, as well as the medial aspect between artistic formation and the artistic surprise effect.

Ellen Strittmatter (2014–2016), Daniel Berndt (2017–2018)