LUCAS Conference: 'Presence and Agency: Rhetoric, Aesthetics and the Experience of Art'

The Annual Conference of LUCAS, the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society - organized by Caroline van Eck, Antje Wessels, and Frederik Knegtel - takes place from 13 - 15 December 2012 in Leiden.

The conference

One of the central topics in recent research in classics, medieval and early modern studies at LUCAS, the Leiden University Centre for the Arts and Humanities in Society, is the presence and agency of texts and works of art. In spite of their representational character, they act upon their readers and viewers, who take them for what they represent. Viewers speak to, hit or kiss statues or paintings; readers become so involved in what they read that they believe they interact with living beings or actual real-life situations. Traditionally such transgressions of the boundaries between the world of representation and the world of the recipient were addressed in terms of vivid, lifelike representation. Classical rhetoric devoted much attention to its use as a strategy of persuasion under the headings of enargeia, illustratio or evidentia; artistic theory discussed this effect in terms of artistic virtuosity resulting in images that misled viewers into taking them for what they represented. If such presence effects were not considered as a matter of rhetorical or artistic virtuosity, they were dismissed as aberrations of primitive or misguided viewers.

In the past decades, the presence and agency of art works and texts has become the object of much innovative work in the humanities and anthropology. Classicists such as Jas Elsner, Ruth Webb or Simon Goldhill have opened up the study of enargeia and ekphrasis by taking into account recent work on visuality in cultural studies; the anthropologist Alfred Gell has redefined the problem of art works or texts acting upon readers and viewers as if they were living beings by considering such effects not as a matter of meaning or style, but in terms of social interactions in the network formed by the players in an art nexus; in art history, David Freedberg has put the issue of the power of images, and what this entails for traditional formalist or aesthetic approaches to art, on the agenda in the late 1980s. The awareness of the limits of traditional art historical and museological treatments of art as primarily an object of aesthetic appreciation has also resulted in a revival of interest in the work of Aby Warburg, one of the first art historians to advocate an anthropological study of art.

Despite the growth of studies on presence and agency, many aspects of this complex phenomenon are still little understood. The role of religion for instance, both in encouraging effects of presence and agency and in disciplining viewers’ behaviour, still needs to be studied in a systematic way. Similarly, the issues of fictionality, make belief, performativity and theatricality as modes of reader’s and viewer’s attitudes, or as ways of understanding presence and agency, need to be studied across the media. Finally, in line with LUCAS’s orientation on art and literature in a global perspective, we will reflect on how presence and agency can be studied from an intercultural perspective, moving beyond traditional Western classifications of visual and textual representation as fine art or literature to include all human representation in art, text, image or ritual.

Conference Program (pdf)

Program (Thursday 13 December)

  • 09.00 – 09.15 Opening by Kitty Zijlmans, Director of LUCAS

  • 09.15 – 09.30 Introduction to the Conference by Caroline van Eck and Antje Wessels

  • 09.30 - 10.30 Opening lecture by Ruth Bielfeldt (Harvard): Consciousness in Objects? New Perspectives from Roman Lamps

  • 10.30 - 10.45 Coffee break

I: Text and Imagination (Session Cchair: Antje Wessels)

  • 10.45 – 11.30 Keynote by Irmgard Männlein-Robert (Tübingen): Reflecting Art in Poetry: Myron's Cow and Hellenistic Culture of Viewing 
  • 11.30 – 12.00 Susanna de Beer (Leiden): Travel Guides for Imaginary Journeys: The Presence of Rome in Early Modern Literary and Artistic Reconstructions
  • 12.00 – 12.30 Bettina Reitz (Leiden): Toppling the Statue, Unwriting Praise: The Destruction of Domitian’s Statues in Pliny’s Panegyricus

  • 12.30 – 13.30 Lunch

Session II: Tempus Praesens (Session Chair: Frans-Willem Korsten)

  • 13.30 – 14.30 Keynote by Armen Avanessian (Freie Universität Berlin): Presence vs. Present Tense. Modernist and Altermodernist Fiction

  • 14.30 – 15.00 Adriaan Rademaker (Leiden): Images of Disaster: The Linguistics and Properties of Thucydides’ Vivid, Descriptive Prose Narrative

  • 15.00 – 15.30 Christoph Pieper (Leiden): The Presence of Cicero in Seneca the Elder

  • 15.30 – 15.45 Tea Break

  • 16.15 – 17.15 Keynote and Forum Antiquum lecture by Ruth Webb (Lille III): Varieties of Presence and Agency in Ekphraseis of Works of Art   (Chair: Ineke Sluiter)

  • 17.15 – 18.30 Drinks

  • Informal dinner for speakers

Program (Friday 14 December)

Session III. Presence and Agency in the Arts (Chair: Kitty Zijlmans)

  • 09.00 – 10.00 Keynote: Stijn Bussels (Groningen): “Caution is best, and go into no extremes”: How Romans came to terms with Images

  • 10.00 – 10.15 Coffee Break

  • 10.15 – 10.45 Jadwiga Kamola (Heidelberg): Lam Qua’s Portraits of Tumor Patients and the Concept of the Tumor-simulacrum

  • 10.45 – 11.15 Martin de la Iglesia (Saarbrücken): Presence in Comics

  • 11.15 – 11.45 Juliet Bellow (American University Washington) and Gustav Frank (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München): Picture Dance: On Photography and Agency

  • 11.45 – 12.00 Coffee Break

  • 12.00 - 12.30 Julie Ramos (INHA/Paris I): "Energie des Sehens": Strategies of Presence and Agency by Karl Friedrich Schinkel during the Napoleonic Occupation

  • 12.30 – 13.00 Juliette Roding (Leiden): The Visual Rhetorics in Karel van Mander III’s Decorative Cycle the ‘Aethiopica’

  • 13.00 – 14.00 Lunch

Session IV: Presence and Agency in an Anthropological Perspective
(Chair: Anthonya Visser)

  • 14.00 – 15.00 Keynote: Uwe Fleckner (Universität Hamburg/Warburg-Haus Hamburg): Countering the biological fatedness of death: Carl Einstein’s Theory of Apotropaic Surrealism

  • 15.00 – 15.30 Boris Cuckovic (Leiden): Where Representation Meets Agency: The Idol in (Modern) Sculpture
  • 15.30 – 15.45 Tea Break
  • 15.45 – 16.15 Noémie Etienne (New York University): The Living Objects. Cross-cultural Conservation, Artefacts and Art History

  • 16.15 - 16.45 Helga Lutz (Erfurt): Armand Schulthess and his "Book-Bodies"

  • 16.45 – 17.15 David Marshall (Bielefeld): Rhetoric, Visual Experience, and Magnanimitas in Aby Warburg

  • 17.15 - 17.30 Tea Break

  • 17.30 – 18.30 Keynote: Pieter ter Keurs (National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden): Warburg, Bourdieu and Manet. Anthropological Reflections on the Breakthrough of Modern Art

  • 18.30    Dinner for speakers

Program (Saturday 15 December)

Session V: Idols and Fetishes: Presence and Appearance (Session Chair: Caroline van Eck)

  • 10.00 – 10.30 Emma Sidgwick (Leuven): Visualising the Transitivity of the Art Object's Power Substance (dunamis or virtus) in Late Antiquity and Early Christianity: The Strigil Motif on Cinerary Urns, Sarcofaghi and Patens

  • 10.30 – 11.00 Erik Gustafson (Berkeley): How Medieval Franciscan Architecture Established the Divine Presence

  • 11.00 – 11.30 Coffee Break

  • 11.30 – 12.00 Tomas Macsotay (Valencia): Cycles of Identification and Repudiation: The Presence of Spanish Processional Images 

  • 12.00 – 12.30 Paolo Sanvito (Humboldt Universität Berlin): Giordano Bruno, Giambattista Della Porta and the Zierathenstil: on a historical-philosophical approach to the living presence in the baroque architectural ornament

  • 12.30 – 13.30 Lunch break

  • 13.30 – 14.00 Jacqueline Hylkema (Leiden): The New Phalaris: Presence, Rhetoric and Agency in the Case of George Psalmanazar

  • 14.00 – 14.30 Christopher Nygren (University of Pennsylvania): Non-Angetive Efficacy: Presence, Absence and the Ontological Entanglement of Miraculous Image

  • 14.30 – 14.45 Closing remarks


This conference has been made possible by:

  • Leiden University Fund

  • OIKOS, National Research School in Classical Studies, The Netherlands

  • Spinoza Prize (NWO) professor Ineke Sluiter

  • LUCAS, Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society

Other information and how to register

The conference will take place at the Lipsius Building, Cleveringaplaats 1 in Leiden (LAK Theatre).

Map of Leiden with various locations of Leiden University
Route from the Central trainstation Leiden (on foot) 
Map of Faculty of Humanities

To register for this conference, please send an e-mail to Frederik Knegtel at

Conference fee
Regular visitors: 75 euro
Students: 30 euro
LUCAS members: no costs

Bank information
Rabo Bank
Account number 1020.54.266
Leiden University / Faculty of Humanities
PO Box 9515, 2300 RA  Leiden
IBAN  NL74RABO0102054266

Please mention: 'SAPno. 1550003028'

Last Modified: 11-12-2012