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Sergius Kodera (Universität Wien)

Sergius Kodera

Sergius Kodera
Image Credit: Sergius Kodera

Fellow in Research Area 1: "Competing Communities"

October – December 2022

Inscribed into the body. Giovan Battista della Porta's Physiognomonics as Art of Memory

The art of memory, a highly popular topic in the 16th century, was originally developed in the context of Greek and Roman rhetorics. It consists of imagining a spatial structure – for instance, a house with different rooms (loci) – and then furnishing this space with objects and persons (imagines). In this art, it is crucial to visualize and memorize a mental structure, with its loci and imagines, in the greatest possible detail. To facilitate this formidable task, the masters of the art of memory frequently recommended that the images have a strong emotional nature (imagines agentes). During the Renaissance, this ancient art underwent numerous transformations.

My project will study these developments with regard to one particular author: the Neapolitan polymath Giovan Batista della Porta (1535–1615), who published not only a treatise on the art of memory, but also numerous and very influential books on an art he called 'physiognomonics'. My project investigates the intertwining of these two branches of early modern knowledge in della Porta's physiognomonics. His lavishly illustrated books on the topic provide the reader with a comprehensive cartography of the physical features of human bodies and corresponding mappings of the bodies of animals, with the aim of thereby deducting hidden moral dispositions and inclinations. This endeavour entails a radical naturalization of human beings and, conversely, an anthropomorphizing of animals.

The project will analyse the ways in which della Porta's cartographies, through their complex interplay of textual and visual elements, serve as specific instances of the art of memory that enable the reader to evoke all possible habits and emotional dispositions of human beings and animals. In particular, my project will examine how della Porta combines amazing textual accounts of the specific capacities and habitual inclinations of human and animal bodies with striking illustrations in order to forge mnemonic imagines agentes of universal emotional dispositions.

Since he received his doctorate in 1994, Sergius Kodera has been teaching Early Modern and Renaissance Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Vienna. He obtained his habilitation in 2004 and undertook fellowships in London (Warburg Institute), Vienna (IFK) and New York (Columbia). Kodera has published on and is a translator of Renaissance authors such as Marsilio Ficino, Machiavelli, Leone Ebreo, Girolamo Cardano, Giovan Battista della Porta, Giordano Bruno, and Francis Bacon. Currently he is working on a biography of della Porta in English. His main fields of interest are the history of the body and sexuality, magic and media, and urban space in interdisciplinary perspectives. For a list of publications visit https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3119-2749