Author: Felix Jäger

The Haunting of Style: Emanuel Löwy on the “Origins of Visual Art”

In a lecture delivered at the Vienna Academy of Sciences in 1930, the classical archaeologist Emanuel Löwy (1857–1938) sought to excavate the “origins of art” in Greece. His earlier writings had traced the linear and isolated appearance of ancient figural representations to underlying “memory-pictures” that had been reproduced uncritically, before a new “physiological” sense of observation launched the birth of classical art. Similar to children’s drawings, as Löwy argued, at this stage man created images that were suggested by reality but essentially conjured from within the mind. His Vienna lecture probed these very same stylistic features, but on different premises. In this paper it is not the mechanics of the mind, but its irrational anxieties that mobilize objects against evil spirits and thus ultimately propel artistic change.

Meaningful Forgeries: Some Remarks on ‘Executioner’s Masks’

Two ‘executioner’s masks’ housed in the collection of the pharmaceutical entrepreneur and philanthropist Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853–1936) have recently been exposed as historiographical forgeries manufactured by the nineteenth-century imaginary. Previously these objects were believed to have covered the face of the executioner during capital punishment, either to disguise his identity or to protect him from the ‘evil eye’ of the dead convict. In an article for History Today, Alison Kinney argued that such notions do not match with early modern written and visual documentation but rather with Victorian ‘gothic’ sensibilities. In fact, the masks seem to have complied with a very modern penal reform agenda that removed executions from the public. Still today in the United States contemporary executioners wear ‘reinvented’ covers to avoid identification.