Longing for the Past: Eichendorff’s Marmorbild, Historical Experience, and the Sexuality of the Masterpieces Room

  • Elsje van Kessel
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


This chapter examines how intellectuals and curators understood connections between classical sculpture, history, and sexual desire in the first public art museums of the early nineteenth century. It builds on Frank Ankersmit’s reading of the Romantic novella Das Marmorbild by Joseph von Eichendorff. According to Ankersmit, one of the novella’s central themes is historical experience: an embodied and sensual relationship to the past as opposed to the ‘scientific’, objective mode of historiography associated with the Enlightenment. The chapter argues that this sensual engagement with history finds an echo in the way Eichendorff’s contemporaries experienced sculpture. The masterpieces room, a museographical invention presenting highlights of a collection in an apparently disorganised manner, emerges as the museal equivalent to the Romantic, sexualised engagement with the past.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elsje van Kessel
    • 1
  1. 1.University of St AndrewsSt AndrewsScotland, UK

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