Two “Artwork Essays,” or the Fate of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna in the Twentieth Century with Brigid Doherty

September 26, 2023, 5:30–7:00 PM

In this Research and Academic Program lecture, Brigid Doherty (Princeton University / Clark Fellow) considers the significance of Raphael’s The Sistine Madonna (1512/13) in and around two epochal essays of the twentieth century: Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (1935–39) and Martin Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1935–36). Raphael’s masterpiece has figured prominently in German-language art history, literature, and philosophy since the publication of Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s On the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture (1755). Benjamin mentions the painting only in a footnote to his “artwork essay,” while Heidegger returns to the premises of his “artwork essay” in a short, pseudo-epistolary reflection on the Sistine Madonna published in 1955. Despite their brevity, these two appraisals of the painting have broad implications for our understanding of its place in the culture of European modernity and, perhaps, for how we approach the history of art now. 

Presented in person in the Clark auditorium. This lecture will be recorded and available to view on this page and the Clark’s YouTube channel on October 3.

Image: Franz Anton Erich Moritz Steinla, after Raphael, detail of The Sistine Madonna, 1848, engraving. Mead Art Museum, gift of Harold S. Atwood, Jr., class of 1937, presented by his son, Harold S. Atwood III, class of 1966.