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

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

5:30 PM–7:00 PM
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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. 

Brigid Doherty is associate professor of German and art and archaeology at Princeton University, where she is also an associated faculty member in the School of Architecture and a member of the executive committees for the European Cultural Studies and Media + Modernity programs. At the Clark, she is completing research for a book on Raphael’s The Sistine Madonna (1512/13) and the idea of the “artwork essay” in German-language art history and philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century, with a focus on writings by Heinrich Wölfflin, Walter Benjamin, and Martin Heidegger.

Free. Accessible seats available; for information, call 413 458 0524. A 5 pm reception in the Manton Research Center reading room precedes the event. The lecture will be recorded and available to view on the Clark’s website and YouTube channel on October 3.

Image: Franz Anton Erich Moritz Steinla, after Raphael, The Sistine Madonna (detail), 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