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Dr. Christina Kuhli (née Posselt)

 christina posselt

Academic Résumé  (Link to PDF-File)

Research Project: “The Hero of Art – A Model of Sovereign Heroization in the 17th Century”

For a sovereign to have legitimacy in the 17th century it was generally necessary that he demonstrate his military and thereby also economic potency. Once this was established, the ruler could then devote himself to the arts and culture. Culture rather than war, national endeavors within the European context, ecumenical tolerance and a classical pretense of virtue were ascribed to the ideal patron and used as heroization strategies.

One prominent work of German writing from the 17th century forms the starting point for this research project: Joachim von Sandrart’s descriptions of Kunstkammer  (cabinets of curiosities) and sovereign patronization of artists evinced an awareness that art (sponsorship) needed its heroes – accordingly, von Sandrart gave them in the dedication to the second part of his Teutschen Academie (1679) the title “heroes of art” (“Kunst-Helden”).

In a precursory examination of the “hero of art” phenomenon, which for the first time is to be regarded semantically and visually as a distinct appearance, questions arise concerning an antagonism in the portrayal as a hero of war and a hero of art. Even in pictorial representations of heroes of art, with which this project will primarily concern itself, virtue and honor in the heroic relational framework remain at times defined through armor, in equestrian portrait or by the depiction of military victoriousness. Parallel to the development of the representative state portrait, the hero of art also emerges subsequent to his military accomplishments; he is the triumphant one who is starting his journey to Olympus or is being moved there. Consequently, art (sponsorship) can be portrayed as an aggrandizement of military exploits; the hero of art can now devote himself ensuring his legacy.

Can this be considered the traditional legitimation of military exploits through cultural sublimation? Should the visual heroization, as it is often expressed in comparison with or otherwise in the role of gods, be considered a continuation of descriptive conventions or is a new iconographical formula materializing through the transformation of narratives (i.e. apotheosis, clothing in the style of Antiquity, “character portraits,” etc.) and protagonists (i.e. Alexander the Great)? In relation to this it must also be taken into account or, more precisely, questioned that Peter Burke defined the “decline of classical exemplars” or “correspondences” and also the “shift from figures of rhetoric to the rhetoric of figures” as typological for the second half of the 17th century. (cf. Peter Burke, The fabrication of Louis XIV, New Haven [et al.] 1992)

To prove this, it is necessary to compile a comprehensive corpus. Starting with the group of sovereigns and their court painters which von Sandrart named “heroes of art” (prince-elector Frederick William of Brandenburg and Michael Willmann, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm and David Teniers, prince-elector Maximilian of Bavaria and Joachim von Sandrart) depictions of these and other sovereigns need to be found in which heroization strategies in the context of a heroization through art are recognizable. These can be portraits with an allegorical element such as godly figures, personifications or emblematic attributes in addition to historical paintings, engravings (e.g. frontispieces as with the Theatrum pictorium, the collection catalogue of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s art gallery composed of engravings by David Teniers, 1660) or medals.