The Pictorial Evidence of Ruins

Konferenz, Roma

Entrance: Via Liguria, 20


Entrance: Via Liguria, 20

The Pictorial Evidence of Ruins: From Rome to Homs

The questions of ruins and their images oscillate in the history of art between the vanitative interpretations related to the early modern period and the aesthetic categories of romanticism, while for the cultural studies the theoretical reflection on the ambiguities of memory and oblivion stands in the foreground.

The conference goes beyond this topic range and raises questions about the importance of a ruin as an anachronistic symbol, a visual indicator of historical difference, and a critical touchstone of modernity.

How did ruins turn into an independent figurative metaphor regarded as the epitome of transience? To what extent were the ancient Roman ruins transformed in the early modern period into iconic images of symbolic and aesthetic value and what is the relevance of this long process of transference—the elevation of the ruin to a sovereign image—for the way in which we view today’s Syrian war ruins from a distance? In this context, one needs to differentiate between natural disintegration and plan- ned ruination: what distinguishes the archaeological from the iconoclastic dimension of a ruin? The instrumentalization of the ruins of Palmyra which themselves became victim to a media-related iconoclasm in 2015 and the elevation of their void space after devastation into a social icon give reason to think critically about how the reception of ruins and the depiction of ruination combine anachronism with aesthetics and affect. Following these issues, we shall ask: What is the pictorial evidence of ruins and that of their images? In how far can images of ruins iconically convey or translate the nature of a catastrophe? To what extent does the aesthetic familiarity of the ruins of Rome as a visual paradigm of a ruined city raised by art since the 16th century contribute to our understanding of the new media-related impact of factual destruction today? Does aesthetics have an anaesthetic effect in this case?

With these questions, the conference seeks to contribute to the critical analysis of a pictorial concept of ruins from the early modern period to the present—spanned between destruction, restoration, and construction—and to ask how the issue of the media topicality of ruins can be dealt with today.


Day 1 – Afternoon session
Venue: Istituto Svizzero, Roma (Via Ludovisi, 20)

H15:00 Adrian Brändli (Istituto Svizzero)
Welcome address

Chair: Ralph Dekoninck (Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve)

H15:15 Mateusz Kapustka (University of Zurich/FU Berlin)
Ruins, Ruination, and Anachronism. An Introduction

H15:45 Henri de Riedmatten (University of Geneva)
Recoding Fragmented Figures: Dynamics of Restoration in Early Sixteenth-Century Rome

H16:30 Break

Chair: Tatjana Bartsch (Bibliotheca Hertziana)

H17:00 Jumana Al Asaad (University of Heidelberg)
The Iconization and Medialisation of the Syrian Cultural Heritage in the Ongoing Armed Conflict


Day 2 – Morning session
Venue: Academia Belgica (Via Omero, 8)

H09:00 Sabine van Sprang (Academia Belgica)

Chair: Barbara Baert (KU Leuven)

H09:15 Maarten Delbeke (ETH Zurich)
Getting Rid of the Ruins. Remnants as Sources of Knowledge and Confusion in the Late 17th Century

H10:00 Dirk de Meyer (Ghent University)
Palmyra to Europe and back. Architectural Ruins and their Mediatization

H10:45 Break

Chair: Tristan Weddigen (Bibliotheca Hertziana)

H11:15 Stanislaus von Moos (University of Zurich/Getty Research Institute)
Constructivist Ruins? On Frank Lloyd Wright and Peter Blume

H12:00 Break

H13:00 Robert Harbison (London)
Ruins and Fragments in Modern Sculpture

H13:45 Concluding remarks and discussion