Eikones Conference at Harvard

An international conference presenting a two-day workshop, featuring a discussion with scholars on new approaches and methodologies that foster an understanding of recent debates in visual studies and art history.

Event Details


Fogg Museum
32 Quincy St, Cambridge, 02138 United States


April 20, 2017 12:30 pm - April 21, 2017 9:00 pm America/New York (UTC-05:00)

Featured image:
Master of the Choir of Sant’ Agostino, Destruction of Ephesus (ca. 1320-30), Sant’ Agostino, Rimini.

The Sacred Image between Revealing and Concealing
New directions in the interpretation of the sacred in ancient and medieval art

We invite the academic community and beyond to the Eikones conference “The Sacred Image between Revealing and Concealing: New directions in the inter­pre­ta­tion of the sacred in ancient and medieval art”. It will bring together scholars from a variety of disciplines at the nexus of the history of art, visual culture, and aesthetics. In a field that has attracted enormous atten­tion over the last three decades (propelled particularly in Europe by the so-called “iconic turn”, or, in Ger­ma­ny, “Bildwissenschaft”, which pro­­vided a new paradigm in the Humanities), the conference aims to dee­pen the understanding of current me­­thods for the interpretation of sacred images, question their con­ti­nued applicability in light of new models, and, in particular, to foster debate among scholars on both sides of the Atlantic whose work remains rooted in very diverse academic traditions which too frequently talk past, rather than with, each other.

The graduate school “Eikones”, hosted at Basel Uni­ver­sity in Switzerland, is one of the most influen­tial institutions which promotes research in visual studies at an ad­van­ced theoretical and methodological level, particularly in the field of pre-mo­dern art history and visual studies. The Eikones module “Re­vea­ling and Concealing”—devoted to Greek and Roman antiquity and the Middle Ages—has played a lea­ding role among similar European gra­duate and postdoctoral programs.

This conference will be held at Harvard University, Harvard Art Museums – Fogg Museum, and swissnex Boston.

Free event (RSVP required) with limited capacity.

Tommaso Laureti, The Triumph of Christian Religion over the Pagan Idols (1585), Hall of Constantine, Vatican.



Thursday, April 20, 2017

Fogg Museum, The Naumburg Room (2nd floor)


12:30 pm Introductory remarks by the conference organizers: Adrian Stähli (Harvard University, Department of the Classics), Jeffrey F. Hamburger (Harvard University, Department of History of Art and Architecture), and Gerald Wildgruber (University of Basel, Graduate School Eikones)


1:10 pm Ioannis Mylonopoulos (Columbia University, Department of Art History and Archaeology)

When the Gods Became Objects: The Materiality of the Divine Image in Ancient Greece
The paper will explore the various materials used for the construction of divine imagery in ancient Greece and their possible meanings. Attention will be drawn not only to popular materials such as marble, bronze, gold, and ivory, but also to silver, dark stone variations, clay, and even gypsum, to which ancient sources also refer, albeit more infrequently. In the paper, particular emphasis will be placed on wooden images and the notion of “ancientness.” The Greco-Roman evidence will be viewed within a heuristic framework informed by thing theory and contemporary approaches to materiality, cognition, and perception.


1:50 pm Gerald Wildgruber (University of Basel, Graduate School Eikones)

The “mechane” of the Ancients: Two Accounts of Tragedy as Interaction with the Gods
This paper presents two interpretations, one ancient, and one modern, of the “mechane” of Greek tragedy, i.e., the formal techniques of representation specific to this art form: an epigram on dance and its figures by Phrynichos – a founding figure of Attic Tragedy – and Hölderlin’s meditation on Sophocles that accompanied his famous translation of Sophocles’s plays. Hölderlin’s remarks on tragedy help to clarify fundamental differences between the Greek’s relation to the sacred compared to our own, especially with regard to the action of ca­tharsis so central to Tragedy. Catharsis implies a practical conception of art works, which poses the further problem of whether or not such art can be retrospectively understood.


2:30 pm Verity Platt (Cornell University, Department of Classics)

Framing the Sacred: Boundary and Ritual in Hellenistic Votive Reliefs
Focusing on a scene of theoxenia in a votive relief from Thessaly, this paper interrogates the diverse ways in which formal framing devices contain, construct, invoke, and celebrate the divine. Far from extraneous to the figural ‘content’ that they border, such devices perform a kind of visual theology that is a critical component of Greek religious practice.


3:10 pm Coffee break


3:35 pm Sophie Schweinfurth (University of Zürich, Kunsthistorisches Institut)

Christian Ruler and Divine Emperor? Some Methodological Remarks on the Problem of Analyzing Imperial Representation under Constantine the Great
It is something like a methodological commonplace in art history that art reflects the ‘Zeitgeist’ of its period (see Wölfflin, Riegl, Panofsky). What do we do when the seminal literary sources oppose the artefactual evidence? The talk is dedicated to this inconsistency characterizing imperial representation under Constantine the Great.


4:15 pm Laura Nasrallah (Harvard University, Divinity School)

‘My mind hesitates about what it should be quiet about’: Vision and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity
This paper focuses on early Christian interpretation of the story of Ezekiel’s vision and on late antique mosaics. In doing so it explores a variety of opinions about seeing God, scriptural interpretation, and optics in late antiquity.


5:00 pm Surprise event for conference attendees.


6:00 pm Keynote lecture at Harvard Hall, Room 102 (directions will be given in the course of the conference)

François Lissarrague (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales Paris)
Ways of Visualizing the Divine in Ancient Greek Imagery
In this paper, I will try to analyze the various ways images of religious rituals integrate divine presence according to different modes, media and rites. The suggested typology of divine presence during rituals includes descriptive as well as narrative images and will take into account the tensions between these two different modes.



Friday, April 21, 2017

Fogg Museum, The Naumburg Room (2nd floor)


10:10 am Milette Gaifman (Yale University, Department of Classics)

Jugs, Gods, and the Creation of the Sacred in Classical Greece
The paper will explore Classical Athenian jugs with depictions of the gods. By focusing on the relationship between the vessels’ imagery and their potential use, the paper will consider some of the complex relationships between instrumentality, visual representation and the creation of the sacred in Greek antiquity.


10:50 am James Simpson (Harvard University, Department of English)

Idolatrous Images and the Psyche in Reformation England
The charge of idolatry spread rapidly and unpredictably through the evangelical nervous system in sixteenth-century England. It attached itself to every salvific form, both psychological and material, that was judged to be man-made, and without scriptural foundation. The first victim of that viral charge was religious visual culture. The first phase of that material destruction was, however, just the easy start, before a much more painful second sequence began. Iconoclastic hygiene around the absolutist God targeted all forms of idolatry, inclu­ding psychic imagination. In this paper I explain how the material image stepped back into the public domain from the ravaged psyche.


11:30 am Felipe Pereda (Harvard University, Department of History of Art and Architecture)

Floating in the Sea” The Origin and Nature of Sacred Images in Early Modern Spain.
A number of important sacred crucifixes venerated in North Western Spain (Castile and Galicia) since the Late Middle Ages share a similar legend for their origin. They are attributed to Nicodemus, and all arrived at the coast floating in the sea. This paper will explore the roots of this ancient Mediterranean topos, how it was transfered to the Iberia Península, and what it tells us about the nature of sacred images in Early Modern Spain.


12:10 pm Break


1:30 pm Barbara Schellewald (University of Basel, Graduate School Eikones)

Gold(-Mosaics), Lapislazuli and All That Glitters: Staging Holiness
The paper will focus on the complex relationship between the material used for (or in) images, basic theoretical approaches, and the spatial organization of (or for) images. The study of a few examples from at least two different cultures will lead to the question of the shared potential between, on the one hand, material culture and, on the other, so-called “Bildwissenschaft”.


2:10 pm Pierre-Alain Mariaux (University of Neuchâtel, Institut d’histoire de l’art et de muséologie)
“Significata magis significante placent”. Crafting the Sacred Through Ornament


2:50 pm Coffee break


3:15 pm Henriette Hofmann (University of Basel, Graduate School Eikones)

Order and its Deconstruction. On the Formation of Space by Frame-image Dynamics
The paper discusses the phenomenon of the frame and questions the functions frames have within medieval image systems. At the beginning of the 11th century, the bishop of Hildesheim commissioned the monumental bronze doors which feature an intellectually highly elaborate image cycle as well as an equally elaborate framing system. The frames appear to be of central relevance for the visualisation of spatial concepts, primarily by influencing the way the beholder experiences the very act of seeing itself.


3:55 pm John Hamilton (Harvard University, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures)

Incarnationis Mysterium: Contemplation, Devotion and Disfiguration in Fra Angelico’s “Annunciation”
Fra Angelico’s Annunciation invites reflection on the limits of contemplation and devotion by presenting the unrepresentable and therefore disfiguring moment of divine incarnation. Through an investigation of this painting, one may arrive at a better understanding of the theological premises that motivate and frustrate any straightforward reading or interpretation.


4:35 pm Closing remarks


6:00 pm Panel discussion and evening reception at swissnex Boston, 420 Broadway, Cambridge.

New Directions in the Interpretation of Images: American and European Perspectives

About the Organizers

Adrian Stähli

Adrian Stähli studied Classical Archaeology, Art History, and Philosophy at the University of Bern in Switzerland (1981–83 and 1984–85) and the Freie Universität Berlin (1983–84 and 1985–92). In 1988, he received his M.A. from the Department of Classical Archaeology at the Freie Universität Berlin with a master’s thesis focused on a collection of ancient portraits in 16th century Rome. He earned his PhD from the same institution in 1996, with a dissertation on the cultural and social context of erotic sculpture in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The Faculty of Arts at the University of Zürich in Switzerland presented him with a Venia Legendi in Classical Archaeology in 2003 upon his completion of a habilitation thesis on the visual representation of the nude male body in the visual media of ancient Greece.

Stähli’s publications include books, co-edited volumes, journal articles, and contributions to exhibition catalogues and to lexica. In his work, he investigates topics ranging from Geometric Greece to the Roman Empire, and covering Greek and Roman sculpture and portraiture, Greek vase painting, the iconography and cultural history of gender, sexuality and the body, visual communication and visual media in their cultural context, practices of collecting and collections in antiquity (and since antiquity), and the reception of antiquity.

He joined the Harvard University Department of the Classics in 2011 as a Professor of Classical Archaeology, after holding positions at the Department of Classical Archaeology at the University of Zürich, the Department of Classical Archaeology at the University of Basel, and the University of Konstanz in Germany. His academic awards and honors include the Research Fellowship for Established Researchers of the Swiss National Endowment for Academic Research (1997–2000) and the Getty Villa Visiting Scholar fellowship (2009). In 2006, he curated an exhibition at Basel University that examined the impact of the discovery of Pompeii on European culture, art, and academia. He has also co-organized academic conferences focusing on the reception of the ancient world in film (Antiquity in Cinema: Towards a Cultural History of Films Set in Antiquity, Basel 2005), the relationship of original and copy in antiquity (Original and Copy: Forms and Concepts of Emulation in Ancient Art, Berlin 2005), and Greek vase imagery as media of cultural transfer (Greek Vase Imagery as a Medium of Cultural Transfer, Munich 2010).



Jeffrey F. Hamburger

Professor Hamburger’s teaching and research focus on the art of the High and later Middle Ages. Among his areas of special interest are medieval manuscript illumination, text-image issues, the history of attitudes towards imagery and visual experience, and German vernacular religious writing of the Middle Ages, especially in the context of mysticism. Beginning with his dissertation on the Rothschild Canticles (Yale, 1987), much of his scholarship has focused on the art of female monasticism, a program of research that culminated in 2005 in an international exhibition, Krone und Schleier (Crown and Veil) that was sponsored by the German government and held jointly in Bonn and Essen. An English translation of the essays in the exhibition catalog was published by Columbia University Press in 2008. His current research includes a project that seeks to integrate digital technology into the study and presentation of liturgical manuscripts, a study of narrative imagery in late medieval German prayer books and a major international exhibition on German manuscript illumination in the age of Gutenberg. The recipient of numerous awards, including fellowships from the John S. Guggenheim Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, the NEH, and the Humboldt-Stiftung, Prof. Hamburger was elected a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America in 2001 and a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2009. He serves on numerous advisory boards, among them, those of the German Manuscript Cataloguing Centers, the Europäisches Romanikzentrum, the Centre International de Codicologie, Bibliothèque Royale Albert Ier, Brussels, and the Katalog der deutschsprachigen illustrierten Handschriften des Mittelalters, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Munich. He is currently Chair of Harvard’s Medieval Studies Committee.

In addition to numerous articles, Prof. Hamburger’s books include: The Mind’s Eye: Art and Theological Argument in the Medieval West , co-edited with Anne-Marie Bouché (Princeton: Department of Art & Archaeology, Princeton University, Princeton University Press, 2005); Die Ottheinrich-Bibel. Kommentar zur Faksimile-Ausgabe der Handschrift Cgm 8010/1.2 der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München co-authored with Brigitte Gullath, Karin Schneider, & Robert Suckale (Luzern: Faksimile-Verlag, 2002); St. John the Divine: The Deified Evangelist in Medieval Art and Theology (Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002); The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany (New York: Zone Books, 1998), awarded the Charles Rufus Morey Prize of the College Art Association and the Roland H. Bainton Book Prize in Art & Music; Nuns as Artists: The Visual Culture of a Medieval Convent (Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996, awarded the Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History of the American Philosophical Society and the Otto Gründler Prize of the International Congress of Medieval Studies; and The Rothschild Canticles : Art and Mysticism in Flanders and the Rhineland circa 1300 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), awarded the Arlt Award in the Humanities by the Council of Graduate Schools and the John Nicholas Brown Prize of the Medieval Academy of America. His most recent book, Leaves from Paradise: The Cult of John at the Dominican Convent of Paradies bei Soest , Houghton Library Studies, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Houghton Library, distributed by Harvard University Press), was published in 2008.

Professor Hamburger holds both his B.A. and Ph.D. in art history from Yale University. He previously held teaching positions at Oberlin College and the University of Toronto. He has been a guest professor in Zurich, Paris, Oxford and Fribourg, Switzerland.



Dr. Gerald Wildgruber

My work at eikones examines Greek notions of form and image and their afterlife in modern thought (be it poetical or of a more philosophical or scientific nature). The Greek evidence is analytic and heuristic in nature. I am especially interested in the emergence of formal methods and their contexts: in what circumstances does the reliance on “form” become a question of necessity? For this purpose form is firstly investigated in a Greek setting (roughly up to and including Tragedy) in the sense of a technical means of representation and account-giving, and can thus encompass poetical form (rhythm, meter, figure) as well as formal means of reasoning (beginnings of the science of logic).

Representation by formal means can be a form of coping, especially so in religious or ritual settings: it is the art of remaining true under various circumstances. These forms however outlive the context of their emergence, they persist, poorly understood but sanctified by use. A modern name could be form as a form of rationality. A less charged notion would be discretion: my work at eikones is concerned with cultures of discretion (σωφροσύνη) and their modern, often cloaked counterparts.

Of central importance in this investigation is the poetic and philosophical work of Friedrich Hölderlin: as a subject matter, but even more so as a detector of what to look for. Hölderlin is a major archaeologist of form. According to his example then, the notion of rhythm, one of the oldest notions of form in western thought, remains key to my research at eikones.
The constellation of poetic language, religion and logic that forms in the duty of saying the divine has probably never been brought forward with such acuteness as in the encounter of Hölderlin and Hegel that eventually failed but left its stakes for future endeavour. Finally, I’m also interested in concepts of form and image that refer equally to language and vision.

After studies in Comparative Literature and Philosophy in Munich (with H.Birus, G.Neumann, B.Lypp and R.Warning) and Paris (with G.Genette and J.P.Morel) I worked with G.Boehm in the “Bild-Figur-Zahl” research group (with responsability for the domain of “Zahl”), and then became assistant to F.Kittler at the Seminar für Ästhetik of Humboldt University in Berlin. The latter two positions continue to inspire my work at eikones.



Notes for attendees

The conference – but neither the keynote lecture on Thursday nor the panel discussion and evening reception at swissnex on Friday – will take place in the Naumburg Room at the Fogg Museum. The Naumburg Room is part of the Fogg Museum and is itself, as a historical room ensemble, a museum exhibit; its wooden wall revetments, panels, and fireplaces have to be respected with the utmost care.

Admission to the Fogg Museum will be waived for conference speakers and participants. When conference attendees arrive, they will receive a black sticker and a daily tag from the admission desk, so that security knows they are in the Fogg for the conference. As the Naumburg Room offers only a limited capacity of seats, all conference attendees – with the exception of invited speakers – will have to register for attending the conference; the online registration portal will be available at the beginning of April. Registration will also be required for the swissnex event on Friday, but not for the keynote lecture on Thursday.

Travel luggage is not permitted and cannot be stored anywhere in the museum; please leave it at the hotel. There is no attended wardrobe in the museum, and the cloakroom in the courtyard has only small lockers with very limited space, but conference speakers are allowed, at the discretion of museum guards and staff members, to bring purses and laptop bags into the Naumburg Room; also, you will find a coat rack in the Naumburg Room for your coats. No food or drinks can be brought into the museum, but we will provide drinking water in bottles in the room throughout the conference, and there will be coffee breaks. Unfortunately, no exceptions to these policies established by the Harvard Art Museums can be granted.

Bathrooms and drinking water dispensers can be found just outside the Naumburg Room.