Upending Grasp and Gravity: Modern Art and the Remaking of Human Disposition, Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen (Visual Representation, Materiality and the Medium Seminar series)


Wednesday, April 20, 2022, 6:00pm


In person & online

April 20, 2022, 6pm ET

In person attendance: Room 422, Level 4, Sackler Building, Harvard

It should be noted that in person attendance is confined to Harvard affiliates only.

Online attendance: Zoom Registration

The Visual Representation, Materiality and the Medium Seminar series, chaired by Professor Ewa Lajer-Burcharth and sponsored by the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard, has the pleasure to host Dr. Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen.

This talk will explore the claim that, in Europe in the decades around 1900, new understandings of human consciousness and the relation of mind to body were materialized in art through a new vocabulary of postures and poses. Drawing on material from Butterfield-Rosen’s recent book Modern Art and the Remaking of Human Disposition (University of Chicago Press, November 2021), the talk will take as its primary object the Vienna Secession’s Klinger-Beethoven Ausstellung of 1902, looking closely at new formal strategies for the presentation of human bodies deployed in the context of this exhibition. The Klinger-Beethoven Ausstellung emerges as a particularly clear example of a wider phenomenon at play in figural representation around 1900, a phenomenon in which artists both exposed and negated a metaphorical system that had implicitly undergirded the representation of humans across previous centuries of European figural art. This metaphorical system extrapolated abstract concepts of mind and consciousness from the concrete functions of the human body’s specialized anatomical equipment: anterior and posterior limbs separated into prehensile arms with hands that can grip and manipulate, and locomotive legs with plantigrade feet that support and balance weight.

Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen is Acting Director of the Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art at the Clark Art Institute.