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GCSC KNL | Plaster Casts in Enlightenment and Colonialist Discourses on Race


Jun 07, 2022 from 06:00 to 08:00 (Europe/Berlin / UTC200)


GCSC (MFR) & Online (BBB)

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Due to their colonialist legacy museums and universities (including at Gießen) have come under pressure to examine their holdings for repatriation of objects and human remains. Understood within a broader call for “decolonizing” Western institutions of knowledge production, such a moment of reckoning invites to revisit other, seemingly unproblematic collections, such as plaster casts of Greco-Roman sculpture. Once a staple of Western style museums around the globe or of departments of archaeology, these replicas democratized access to ancient art, while simultaneously establishing a canon of art through “mere exposure.” Its impact proved to be particularly powerful in the 18th and 19th centuries when cast collections also served to provide ‘scientific’ evidence. Following a longstanding tradition, many enlightenment and colonialist “polymaths” bridged the arts and sciences in their work in a way universities our days would hail as “interdisciplinary”. From that, however, arose a blending of real and ideal, with fateful consequences: in the context of discourses on the “human races” the use of casts established the (white) European body as exemplary, whether as pinnacle of humanity, or as default, unmarked model (man as such). The paper concludes with proposing strategies to address this problematic legacy without completely giving up on plaster cast collections.

The keynote lecture will be followed by a conversation with Prof. Dr. Katharina Lorenz (JLU/GCSC Giessen).

On-site event open to the public without prior registration. To join the lecture event online, please register here.

// Prof. Dr. Annetta Alexandridis (Cornell University, the Department of History of Arts & Visual Studies) is interested in researching Roman sculpture, Greek myth and iconography, archaeology and its media (photography, plaster casts), and in gender studies and animal studies. Her recent publications include Die Frauen des römischen Kaiserhauses. Eine Untersuchung ihrer bildlichen Darstellung von Livia bis Iulia Domna (2004) and Mensch und Tier in der Antike: Grenzziehung und Grenzüberschreitung (with Markus Wild and Lorenz Winkler-Horaček) (2008).