Iconic Presence. The Evidence of Images in Religion
Iconic production differs significantly across religious traditions, and yet it still relies on similar patterns that emerge through comparison. Iconic presence is first and foremost an investigation into how humans engage with images in practice, as Hans Belting demonstrates in his book Bild-Anthropologie (2001, An Anthropology of Images). The current project draws from both the histories of religious images as well as modern episodes in art history. Through a multidisciplinary approach, the example of Europe can be integrated into a broader anthropology of human engagement with images.
Hans Belting: Iconic Presence. The Evidence of Images in Religion (extensive description of the project in English)
Partner Institutes and Research Projects
Head Researcher: Sigrid Weigel
Associate Researcher: Johanna Abel
Collaborative Partner: Martin Treml
Iconic and Real Presence. Mediation in Religions
Iconic presence is presence in and as a picture. The physical presence of a picture (its mediality) indicates the symbolic presence that it depicts. In the context of religion and iconic ritual, the person pictured shares a specific kind of presence that bodies also possess. At the same time, the picture attests to an experience of absence. Iconic presence marks this temporal and constitutive absence insofar as the picture transforms absence, without negating it, into another sort of presence. In religious practices, iconic presence will on occasion assume an actual presence as, for instance, with reenactment performances of divine apparitions, in which the picture itself not only plays a role, but practically determines the course of events.
In more general terms, pictures in religious practices fulfill a desire for real presence, a presence that the pictures themselves evoke. The “here and now” of the picture makes it possible to experience real presence through the senses. Rituals center on images that in turn appear as objects of ritual practices. Religious studies scholars refer to these practices collectively as mediation (B. Meyer 2014).
Corporeal presence in the Hispanic cult drama auto sacramental
To explore the tension between these two modes of mediation, the project focuses on three specific plays that demonstrate how embodied allegorization works to represent the unrepresentable of the Host. The work sources are the drama texts, their ›appearance reports‹ (memorias de apariencias) documenting the effects of ›presence machines‹ and further archive material on pre-modern stage practice.
In the allegorical Auto The true God Pan (1670), Calderón’s employment of prefiguration, incorporation in personae dramatis (e.g. »La Idolatría«) and the trans-figuration of images on stage, e.g. the picture of a lamb turning into a statue of the Immaculate Conception, will be analysed as poetics of transubstantiation.
The iconicity of transubstantiation in hispanic feast and theatre culture became part of a worldwide image programme through Spain’s colonial expansion to the Americas and Asia. The classical play The Divine Narcissus (1689) by Mexican author Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, shows the global impact of the genre, taking the Eucharist as an opportunity to reflect upon transcultural image questions in general. The desire of images as the result of the absent body, image cult instauration to maintain the memory of a given symbolic heritage, the power of images and the changing order of sacrifice expressed in new images are all issues addressed in her Auto sacramental and serve as theoretical parameters for the project.
In both works, the recurring tropes for doubling, blurring and overlapping all aim to grasp enhanced perception. As their predecessor, the complex and well documented set of stage props and mechanics of Lope de Vega’s mysterious auto La Margarita preciosa (1616) show how the material culture of religious theatre used copies of liturgical objects like Chalice and Host in ingenious ways to illustrate, transfer and train hermetic visionary experience. Lope’s theatrical representation turned the Eucharistic bread into a white flower inverting the colours of monstrance and host and further transfigured its plain centre into a three-dimensional pearl (Matthew 13: 45) that is to be obtained off the »Merchant of Glory«, the Christ-figuration performed in his play. The combination of image and word on the Corpus Christi-stage made the appearance of a polyform sacred body real.
2. Center for Advanced Studies BildEvidenz. Geschichte und Ästhetik, Freie Universität Berlin
Chair: Klaus Krüger
Research Associate: Henry Kaap
Affiliated Researcher: Friederike Wille
Art and Religion in the Renaissance. The Case of Venice
The Mobile and Transregional Artist: On the Aesthetic Structure of Lorenzo Lotto’s Altar Pieces
3. Centrum raně středověkých studií (Center for Early Medieval Studies), Masarykovy Univerzity Brno
Head Researcher: Ivan Foletti
Research Associate: Zuzana Frantová
Walking to Places with Living Images
Balzan Prize 2015 for Hans Belting
Ill. above: Francisco de Zurbarán, Santa Faz 1631, Nationalmuseum Stockholm (detail), in: Hans Belting: Das echte Bild. Bildfragen als Glaubensfragen, München 2006, 121.
Johanna Abel: From Ritual to Theatre. Spanish Corpus Christi-plays between procession and stage
Center for Early Medieval Studies, Masaryk University, Veveří 470/28, 602 00 Brno (CZ)
Iconic Presence, Real Presence and Sacred Art
Freie Universität Berlin, various venues