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The Travelling Torso (2019-)

Anna Degler, Research Area 2: "Travelling Matters"
Postdoctoral Research Project

The aim of my project is a book-length study on the entanglement of the most famous fragment in 'Western' culture – the so called Belvedere Torso – with the aesthetic and political concepts of body and materiality in art and literature. The medial and material transformations of the Torso will be examined in the broader context of classical receptions in (Early Modern) Europe and the United States. The project is first and foremost a contribution to canon practices and reception studies. It looks into different moments of canonization of the Belvedere Torso with a special focus on those episodes where the bond between the ‘receivers’ and the Torso is torn apart, where the canon is on the verge of collapse.

Since its emergence in 15th-century Italy the Torso has been received as a particularly ambiguous figure. The sculpture performs an openness and a lack as a fragment as well as a body. The question of how concepts of the body, of gender and sexuality, ableism and race are created by using the famous Torso as a model are of utmost importance. Long lasting concepts of the integrity of the body are in fact constructed right in the period the Belvedere Torso was established as one outstanding piece of art. One challenge of the book project by consequence is to ask, how those phenomena are related.

The travelling of the Belvedere Torso into different contexts, media and materials allows for a deeper insight into complex temporal, normative and political reference systems classical reception partakes in. I would like to argue against essentialist concepts of ‘Antiquity’ that conceive of antique marble fragments as something original, stable and unchangeable. The possibilities and limits of posthumanist material agency and its particular temporality as something that is always becoming and ongoing will be critically explored. By avoiding a stable and fixed idea of an antique origin, the Torso will be presented as ever emerging in its heterogeneous receptions.


Das Projekt möchte den stark fragmentierten Marmorkörper, den wir Torso Belvedere nennen, nicht länger als Ikone ‚klassischer‘ Antikenrezeption und somit als statische, feste Größe etablieren, sondern vielmehr seine Beweglichkeit und Veränderlichkeit über die frühneuzeitliche Rezeption erfassen. Es geht darum zu ergründen, wie genau das ständige Auftauchen dieses berühmten Fragments aus den materiellen Gefügen der Kunst wie der Schriftkultur an den Diskursen über ‚Körper‘ und Materialität beteiligt ist.