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Imitatio heroica. Hero Likeness in Imagery from Antiquity to the End of the 18th Cenutry


The term imitatio heroica describes portrayals of historical persons which have been made to resemble the representations of heroic figures. From Antiquity onward it has been repeatedly documented as being among the forms by which groups have assimilated the heroic making it one of the central research topics for the Collaborative Research Center 948. The imitatio heroica is especially manifold in its visual manifestations of rulers, artists, the dead, etc. through paintings, sculptures and reliefs, and is characterized by three qualities: conspicuousness which is achieved by the corporeality of the image and the explicit connection to the heroic; at the same time a plethora of various declarations are being made through the iconography, composition and style of the portrayal; and, lastly, medial variety. In visual likenesses of heroes heroic connotations are especially recognizable, firstly, in the forms of their assimilation which are medially and socially defined and, secondly, in the unique potential of the visual to present the heroic.

This conference intends to investigate the phenomenon of the imitatio heroica in imagery which has until now neither systematically nor comprehensively or comparatively been done. Images from Antiquity until the transition into the 19th century will be examined in order to first of all clarify the historical depth of the phenomenon which until that time was free from the demands of a nation and, furthermore, free from a critical, enlightened appraisal. The objective will be to provide both a survey of the phenomenon on the basis of case studies as well as a theoretical analysis of the phenomenon for the Pre-modern Era. For this the connotations and mediums of the imitationes as well as the connection to the religious or, more precisely, to godly likeness will be explored. Consequently, the different meanings can be explained when, for instance, a ruler in an image is slaying a lion, or wearing a lion’s pelt similar to Heracles or appears in another pose of a recognizable Heracles image. The intent is a historically, socially and medially differentiated analysis of the formal means (habitus, pose, attributes, iconography, style, etc.) and the types of relation between that which is portrayed and the heroic figure (heroization/apotheosis, likening, comparison, metaphor, quality labeling, etc.).

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