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NCCR Mediality

Die Nationalen Forschungsschwerpunkte (NFS) sind ein Förderungsmittel des Schweizerischen Nationalfonds.
E. Übertragung (2005-2009)
E.5. (2005-2009) Repères pour une histoire de la représentation de la chair dans l’art occidental

The starting point of such a study is the observation that only the so-called “Western Tradition” of Art approached flesh as a centre of representation. Flesh is the visible part of the body and will be studied as such. One of the main difficulties emerging here is due to the fact that flesh (caro, chair), in spite of its visible or even palpable properties, is first of all a philosophical and religious notion and not an artistic one. With the coming of Christianity, the notion of “the flesh” acquires new importance, and a concomitant impact on the Arts. A large part of Christian iconography would be unintelligible without the premise of incarnation (“the word becomes flesh”).
So, a history of the representation of flesh must necessarily be a richly interdisciplinary study, but at the same time, it should try to concentrate on the specific aspects of the visual as implicated by pictorial and sculptural mimesis. The incarnato of the Venetian painters (above all the solution of Titian) and its adoption by Rubens, the treatment of the flesh by Caravaggio, Delacroix, Renoir and Francis Bacon will be milestones of this study.
Since time immemorial, the problem of how to imitate flesh was also, in a specific way, central to sculptural representation. Marble and bronze are the privileged materials of sculptural creation and it is precisely in this sphere that we have to look for the equivalents of the incarnadine as it has been realized by chromatic research in painting. Without doubt, there is also the problem of the coloured marble, of the red-coloured bronze alloy, of the polychrome statuary, but mainly and essentially, the sculptural mimesis is not a question of colour, but of the “illusionist” handling of a material that is both monochrome and hard. An “iconology of the material” could turn out to be very successful. The topic of flesh will be analysed in the context of the erotic issues of representing the nude in Western Art. The study will also take into account certain aspects connected to the sensual perception of works of art and the relationships set up in this context between the “visual” and the “tactile”.
The second section of the study will be dedicated to the Christian problematic of the flesh and its repercussion on artistic representation. In the great discussion about images arising in Byzantium and in the West during the 8th and 9th century, the incarnation dogma was always present, when it came to justifying the status of Christ’s icon: The image of Christ is possible because God has been embodied. The present study intends to question the figurative means set forward in the name of this dogma.

Prof. Dr. Victor Stoichita

Dr. Henri de Riedmatten,