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Katharina Helm

 katharina helm

Dissertation Project: Studies on Publicly Erected Monuments to Heroes and Heroized Persons in Italy and France during the Pre-Modern Era (working title)

In the Occidental cultures of Europe heroes have played a prominent societal role since Antiquity. Although a ‘post-heroic age’ which no longer has the need for heroic figures has been proclaimed numerous times in recent discussions, an opposing trend marked by a variety of new types of heroes and concepts is becoming apparent and illustrates how current this topic actually is.

With regard to the representation of heroes and the communicating of heroic concepts monuments erected to heroes in public spaces represent an especially striking articulation of the heroic in light of its permanent presence within the city space. Simultaneously its accessibility at city plazas and squares guarantees a visual communication of normative values which is not directed at any specific class of society. The dissertation’s objective is to investigate this kind of medial realization of the heroic in sculpted monuments and the semantics behind them from a comparative and diachronic perspective. The time period between 1300 and 1800 in the politically different regions of Italy and France was important to the development and establishment of the sculpted statue and will constitute the timeframe of interest to the study.

Proceeding from a first-of-its-kind systematic survey of all statues of heroes erected in urban spaces a monument corpus will be compiled that reflects the relevant questions for the dissertation. On the basis of this selection analyses of individual objects will be conducted which will give precise information about the respective social, historical, political and cultural context surrounding the emergence of the monument. In the process the analyses of formal composition and portrayal should further elucidate heroization strategies and concepts so that the modeling of the heroic in the monument and the political aims associated with that can be better understood. Nevertheless, not only the monuments themselves but also the commemorative acts which took place there represent an important element to be investigated considering that the heroic was integrated into the everyday life of the public through these practices and could be (re)functionalized for a specific target group. In one further regard, certain performative acts were measures to de-heroize the sculpted figure. These measures were not limited to performative acts, however, and must therefore be investigated in their complexity. Additionally, the monument’s place within the urban structure represents a further relevant aspect needing to be investigated since occupying public space can imply an intended message which can be understood either in the erection of the statue or is simply inherent in the monument. Hence, on the basis of its diachronic and comparative perspective and acknowledging the relation between public space and sculpture the dissertation will make its contribution to the study of history and the issue of heroizing public monuments in the Pre-Modern era.