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International Conference // Unseeing the Evil Eye: Powers and Politics of the Apotropaic



29.11.2023 um 14:00 bis
30.11.2023 um 16:00


Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Katharina-von-Bora-Str. 10, München, Vortragssaal 242, II. OG | Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst, Gabelsbergerstr. 35, 80333 München

Termin übernehmen


Since the nineteenth century, the ghost of apotropaism has haunted the humanities. Coined by classicist Otto Jahn (1813–1869), the term quickly gained traction in historical scholarship denoting all actions or objects conceived as provocative, obscene, and therefore offensive to the sensibilities of the time. Depictions of threatening animals, glaring faces and disembodied eyes, exposed genitalia and arcane symbols found throughout history, according to Jahn, served as protective devices warding off evil by mirroring its appearance. Patterns of “irrational” behavior in this reading transcend culture and history linking past artistic phenomena with present “superstitions,” especially those belonging to non-Western cultures. In art history, the apotropaic continues to be evoked for the uncommon, whenever visual and textual evidence seems insufficient, or it undergirds ambitious theories on art’s efficacy. Museums commonly situate the apotropaic within everyday culture, while art institutions shun the anonymous and uncommon in favor of artist genealogies and iconographic themes. With recent attention to our discipline’s colonialist stakes and a push towards cultural and methodological diversification, the evil eye is due for a critical review.
This two-day international conference explores the relationship between contentious materials and anxious historians, and gauges the apotropaic’s potential for recuperating marginalized voices. Its approach is two-fold: on the one hand, speakers center the term’s nineteenth-century historiographic and museum legacies, its colonialist and primitivist attitudes, as well as the moral politics that sustain its use up to the present; on the other, they examine the term’s stakes within current methodological and critical debates across the humanities. Diachronic and interdisciplinary in nature, the conference traces the apotropaic from its scholarly “invention” to its prehistoric origins and classic motifs in ancient art, through medieval and early modern magic and back to its impact on modern and contemporary art, as well as on museum practices and ethics today.
With its long history of pooling non-canonical art and non-normative experiences, the apotropaic is emblematic of scholarly erasure and rich in lessons to learn; and yet its uncompromising embrace of the so-called material misfits of history and its commitment to fostering emotional community across times and cultures warrant further attention.

ORGANIZED BY | Dr. Felix Jäger (The Courtauld Institute of Art) and Asst. Prof. Dr. Miriam Said (Tufts University)

[Caption: Mask, painted iron, 17th–18th century, London, Tower of London, obj. no. XVIII.39, © Royal Armouries]



The event will be held in English. The event is free of charge.

This event is a hybrid event, hosted in person in Munich, and online at the following link:
Meeting-ID: 856 5934 5839 | Passwort: 148258.



Logo der LMU. Zwei grüne Quadrate mit weißer Schrift

  Logo Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst. Schwarz, weiß   Logo Tufts Universität. Hellblaue Schrift auf weißem Utnergrund





Wednesday, November 29th
Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Katharina-von-Bora-Str. 10, 80333 Munich, Room 242

2:00 – 2:30pm | Miriam Said (Tufts University, Medford) and Felix Jäger (The Courtauld Institute of Art, London): Welcome and Introduction

Chair: Christine Tauber (Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich)

2:30 – 3:00pm | Reena Perschke (University of Leicester): “Gazing into the Grave: Apotropaic Anthropomorphs in Megalithic Tombs”
3:00 – 3:30pm | Meg Bernstein (Alfred University) and Meg Boulton (University of York): “Art after the End of the World? Vibrating Architecture, Uncertain Apotropaism and the Birth of the Romanesque”

3:30 – 4:00pm Coffee Break

Chair: Dominik Brabant (Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich)

4:00 – 4:30pm | Tamara Golan (University of Chicago): “Gender and the Magical Ties that Bind: The Drawings of Niklaus Manuel”
4:30 – 5:00pm | Lorne G. Darnell (The Courtauld Insititute of Art, London): “Reflections on the Rural Exotic: Some ‘Witch’s Marks’ in Pieter Brueghel’s Peasant Feast”
5:00 – 5:30pm | Ulrich Pfisterer (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität / Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich): “Attraction and Repulsion: Seeing Sex and Obscenity in Medieval and Early Modern Art”

5:30 – 6:15pm Coffee Break

6:15 – 7:30pm | Keynote: Benjamin Anderson (Cornell University, Ithaca) // “Apotropaics and Aesthetics”
7:30 – 9:00pm Reception


Thursday, November 30th
Staatliches Museum für Ägyptische Kunst, Gabelsbergerstraße 35, 80333 Munich, Auditorium

Chair:  Ulrike Keuper (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich)

11:00 – 11:30am | Jessica Lamont (Yale University, New Haven): “Like Affects Like: Magic and Medicine in Classical Greece”
11:30 – 12:00pm | Minou Schraven (Amsterdam University College): “Making Sense of Building Deposits: Cats, Coins, and other Miracle-Working Objects between Local History and Universalism”

12:00 – 1:00pm Lunch (not provided)

Chair: Boris Čučković Berger (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich)

1:00 – 1:30pm | Radek Przdpełski (Trinity College, Dublin): “Apotropaic Media and Polish-Tatar Cosmotechnics”
1:30 – 2:00pm | Hana Gründler (Kunsthistorisches Institut – Max-Planck-Institut, Florence): “The Subversive Power of Non-Official Art in the ČSSR”

2:00 – 2:30pm Coffee Break

Chair: Felix Jäger ( The Courtauld Insititute of Art, London), Miriam Said (Tufts University, Medford)
2:30 – 3:00pm | Thierry Greub (Universität zu Köln): “Cy Twombly’s ‘Aesthetics of Protection’”
3:00 – 3:30pm | Final Remarks and Open Questions