Material Text Cultures

Text and Image in Greek Sculpture: A Case-Study on Athens and Olympia From Archaic to Imperial Age


current staff members

Teilprojektleiter Jun. Prof. Dr. Nikolaus Dietrich
akademischer Mitarbeiter Dr. Johannes Fouquet

former staff members

akademische Mitarbeiterin Corinna Reinhardt, M.A.




By the study of written text in Greek sculpture the project is combining the text-anthropological approaches by the SRF 933 with visual culture methodologies. The particular object of research are inscriptions on Greek statuary monuments in a wide chronological range from the origins of Greek sculpture until the Roman period. Within these limits, the project is not intended to give an exhaustive account of all available material, but to examine within a comparative perspective and on the basis of case studies the different kinds of relations that may exist between inscription and statue and their change over time. More specifically, the study is focused on two archaeologically and epigraphically well-investigated topographical areas providing an ample corpus of inscribed statuary monuments from across the entire chronological range of this project: the polis Athens and the sanctuary of Olympia.

Euthydikos-Kore with inscription on round base, ca. 500 B.C. (Abgusssammlung Heidelberg)

In the light of ongoing research in the field of classical studies on the relation of text and image intensively conducted for at least two decades the project responds to three primary desiderata:

  1. The highly theoretical debate on text-image-phenomena tends to be based on ancient texts and often lacks closer examination of text-bearing artefacts. In contrast, the project develops its leading questions primarily from the material evidence of written texts on / surrounding images, without losing sight of theoretical concerns.
  2. In those cases, where the relation of text and image has nevertheless been analysed within a more explicitly material-bound perspective, priority was given to inscriptions on Greek vases. In contrast, the project focus on statuary monuments as text-bearing artefacts.
  3. Research on inscribed statuary monuments was hindered in the past by a disciplinary divide between art-historical (Classical Archaeology) and epigraphical (Ancient History) approaches. Considering the two case studies Athens and Olympia the project seeks to benefit from the combination of both methodologies.

The thematic approach of the project is defined by four key areas concerning:

  1. the status of text in / surrounding the image and the continuum or categorial difference between text and image;
  2. the meaning and significance of text in / surrounding the image in relation to the iconographic content of the figural image;
  3. the act of writing within the production of images, the identity of the writer and the sculptor and, finally, the sequential position of writing in the artisanal process of conceptualizing and producing images. Accordingly, the project is more specifically oriented towards the production side concerning the aesthetics of inscribed statuary monuments.
  4. A fourth area has been added in the final funding phase (currently underway). This area supplements the aforementioned focus on writing in the production of images by adding an approach that analyses aesthetic reception. It achieves this by questioning the modalities of viewers’ reading of inscriptions and asking how this functions in conjunction with their observation of the visual part of statues. It questions how we can imagine this from the point of view of a viewer simply walking past the monument or that of an interested viewer walking around it. It also asks whether appreciation of the inscription necessarily involves reading the inscription, or whether it is ‘enough’ to simply observe it as a caption. The eventual goal is to question the long-term reception of the statue inscriptions with reference to the descriptions of centuries-old statues and their inscriptions in Athens and Olympia provided by Pausanias in the second century AD.

The overall aim of the project is to overcome the divide of text and image in our understanding of statuary monuments that, to be sure, is rooted in the scholarly tradition, but is also systematically predetermined by a modern contrasting of both media.


Subprojects of the 3rd Funding Period

A01 A02 A03 A05 A06 A08 A09 A10 A11 A12 B01 B04 B09 B10 B13 B14 B15 C05 C07 C08 C09 C10 INF Ö2 Z



Completed Subprojects

A01 A03 A04 B02 B03 B06 B07 B11 B12 C01 C02 C03 C04 C06 IGK Ö1



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