Sacramental Representation

Program Sponsorship Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2008–2010
Daniel Weidner
Stefanie Ertz, Stefan Manns, Heike Schlie

files/zfl/fotos/projekte/sakramentale-repraesentation/bildb1.jpgThe project examined the fundamental importance of the Sacrament for discourses and practices of representation in the Early Modern period. An interdisciplinary collaboration of art history, literature, and philosophy, drawing on debates and exemplary works from the 16th and 17th centuries, showed how the discourse of signs/symbols and their representative and performative power explicitly and implicitly refer back to debates about the Sacrament. Thus, the representational culture of the Early Modern period as a whole can be read as a legacy of discussion about the Reformation, which still remains effective even where it no longer explicitly deals with sacramental theological issues.
In the last decades, the study of the Early Modern period has emphasized a concept of representation that provides a way to describe processes of epistemology, media history, and politics. In its work, the project stressed the importance of sacred practices and models of representation over other approaches. The Eucharist, which was surrounded by a system of holy symbols, images, and rituals, whose modes are in principle determined by a tension between presence and representation, was one of the most important sites of cultural clashes in the Reformation and has since then been decisive for the entire episteme of representation.
Sacramental representation in various media are by no means limited to the sacramental piety or the theological debates about the Sacrament itself, but concern the phenomena of transfer and overdetermination in sacred and profane cultural techniques of the Early Modern period. When the issue of whether something is ›purely‹ symbolic or something ›more‹ is addressed, the model of the Sacrament is always evoked. The martyrs of the Early Modern period are presented either as witnesses of truth or are used to enhance reflection on theater.  On the one hand, seemingly quite different philosophical, aesthetic and political discourses, media, and practices are used to think of the Sacrament and to verify its respective interpretation. On the other hand, such discourses and practices are inversely reflected by sacramental models and concepts. They set the scene, when, for instance, in allegorical theater an emblematic sense is attributed to the execution of the action on stage. Such reflections cannot be understood simply as ›secularization‹ of theological thought figures and cannot even situate themselves denominationally, but rather show in themselves the tension and the need for negotiation between different religious groups, between different media practices, semiotics and policies.
The wide range of contributions from history, religion, art, and literature to the workshop of Sacramental Representation supported the diverse and interdisciplinary outreach of the project.
The extension and clarification of the existing dominant historical research or denominational-specific typology of presence vs. representation in favor of a media-and cultural-historical perspective on the various discursive interfaces and turning points of the sacramental paradigm in the early modern period proved to be particularly fruitful.
In this sense, the project drew up a collective monograph, which situates the concept of the ›sacramental representation‹ in the context of previous research approaches (e.g. discourse analysis, secularization debates, media history) and unfurled it in a series of  individual studies that dealt with the role of Sacrament discourse in epistemology and sign theory,  iconology, image criticism and emblemata, in the Baroque theater, in the rhetoric and poetics of spiritual lyric poetry, and finally in political theory.


Stefanie Ertz, Heike Schlie, Daniel Weidner

Book Series: Trajekte
Sakramentale Repräsentation
Substanz, Zeichen und Präsenz in der Frühen Neuzeit
Wilhelm Fink Verlag, München, 2012