The dissertation project investigates literary techniques for the sacralization of art in French fin de siècle novels (Zola, Rodenbach, Huysmans) taking into account current aesthetic and visual culture theories.
In the last years scholars have become increasingly interested in the impact images can have on our life, the way they influence our perception of the world, our feelings and opinions. However, the so-called “Iconic Turn” does not only apply to current developments in the new media, it also asks for a new perception of the power of images in our past. One of the key concepts in this context is the one of the “cult image” or “holy image” – as defined by the German art historian Hans Belting in 1990. It refers to pre-modern images, which were believed to possess the tangible presence of the depicted holy person and were therefore treated as objects of veneration. The project aims to use this concept as an analytical instrument in the study of the fin de siècle novels in order to examine the sacralization of art from a new point of view. Metaphors as ostensory, tabernacle or real presence taken from a liturgical context indicate the sacral elevation of images in the novels. Their visual power which captures the beholder and activates his imagination can on one hand be seen as a proof of the strong impact of aestheticism and furthermore as a positive alternative to the notion of mimesis which has been severely questioned at the end of the 19th century.