"Enlivening and - Dividing": An Aporia of Illumination


  • Hans Christian Hönes Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany Institute for Art History




Antiquarianism, Artificial Illumination, Art Appreciation, Historism


In 1798, Karl August Böttiger paid a nocturnal visit to the Gallery of Antiques in Dresden, illuminating the statues with a torch. At first glance, this seems to be yet another example of a popular practice for visiting galleries c.1800. Illuminating the sculptures by torchlight was a popular means of enlivening the objects, set in motion by the light flickering on their surfaces. The collections were thus meant to become a place where cold, white stone comes to life, and where the beholder becomes part of a revived antiquity.

This was precisely what Böttiger intended, too. But to him, the effect of the torchlight appeared to be, as he wrote, “enlivening and – dividing!” The torchlight highlighted not only the beauty of the sculptures but also their modern restorations. Böttiger apparently failed to experience the living presence of the antique celebrated by many of his contemporaries (e.g. Goethe, Moritz).

This essay focuses on the consequence of such a perception of sculptures as historically multi-layered objects. Böttiger’s experience resulted in a problematic situation. In trying to view the sculptures as contemporaries, he hoped to become ancient himself. But this operation failed in the moment when the sculptures themselves appeared to be anachronistic, impure palimpsests. In consequence, galleries may not only be the place were art history as chronological Stilgeschichte was born. They may also be the site where this perception changed into the experience of a more chaotic shape of time.

Author Biography

Hans Christian Hönes, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany Institute for Art History

Hans Christian Hönes is a Research Associate on the project Bilderfahrzeuge: Warburg's Legacy and the Future of Iconology at the Warburg Institute in London. He is the author of Kunst am Ursprung:Das Nachleben der Bilder und die Souveränität des Antiquars (Bielefeld: transcript, 2014) and co-editor of volume IV of Aby Warburg’s Gesammelte Schriften (Fragmente zur Ausdruckskunde auf anthropologischer Grundlage, Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015).




How to Cite

Hönes, H. C. (2015). "Enlivening and - Dividing": An Aporia of Illumination. Contemporaneity: Historical Presence in Visual Culture, 4, 1–23. https://doi.org/10.5195/contemp.2015.73