Eighteenth-century art and literature developed a veritable passion for the myth of Pygmalion. The revival of the Ovidian myth of the living statue served to call into question the divine nature of human creation. Since an artist can bring a statue to life, life is no longer God’s prerogative. The ‘rediscovery’ of Pygmalion in the eighteenth century, and his propulsion to the status of an emblem, has a highly destructuring value: it relegates divine creation and establishes Pygmalion as a powerful metaphor for man’s creative capacity.
Victor I. Stoichiță is Professor Emeritus of Modern and Contemporary Art History at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. He was awarded the Louvre Chair in 2014, the Bernard Berenson Lectures at Harvard University’s Centre for Renaissance Studies (I Tatti) in 2016, the European Chair at the Collège de France in 2018, and the Hegel Lecture at the Freie Universität in Berlin in 2022. In 2020, he was awarded the scientific prize of the Aby Warburg Foundation in Hamburg and the Martin Warnke Medal. He is the author of several works on the history of art, translated throughout the world, and of an autobiographical novel that was awarded the Prix de l’Académie Française in 2015.
Lecture Series 2023-24
A model can be an object of admiration, a miniature or a prototype, an abstracted phenomenon or applied theory, a literary text — practically anything from a human body on a catwalk to a mathematical description of a system. It can elicit desire, provide understanding, guide action or thought. Despite the polysemy of the term, models across disciplines and fields share a fundamental characteristic: their effect depends on a specific relational quality. A model is always a model of or for something else, and the relation is reductive insofar as it is selective and considers only certain aspects of both object and model.
Critical discussions of models often revolve around their restrictive function. And yet models are less prescriptive and more ambiguous than codified rules or norms. What is the critical purchase of models and how does their generative potential relate to their constitutive reduction? What are the stakes in decreasing or increasing, altering or proliferating the reductiveness of models? How can one work with and on models in a creative, productive manner without disavowing power asymmetries and their exclusionary or limiting effects?
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