Martin Müller

The encyclopaedic image.The performative construction of knowledge in early modern encyclopaedias

My doctoral research focuses on the role of images in encyclopaedias and lexicons as part of a performative construction of knowledge in the early modern period. This project takes as its primary subject the plates of the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, edited by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert between 1751 and 1780/81. Through a consideration of these and other significant plates from earlier and subsequent encyclopaedias and lexicons, I analyse the specific modes of pictorial representation in these encyclopaedic images, along with their techniques of visual argumentation, in order to explore their relevance for generating and forming knowledge.

My dissertation conjectures that the images of early modern encyclopaedias do not only accumulate and register information but also initiate and organise processes of understanding, knowing, and thinking by virtue of their aesthetic character as images. Encyclopaedic images are therefore not simply instruments of recording and illustrating knowledge, but rather dynamic agents that work on preconditions of pictorial representation and visual perception, as well as actively contributing to the development and configuration of knowledge.

The aim of my doctoral project is twofold. First is to prove how encyclopaedic modes of visualisation contribute to the process of understanding and to the performativity of knowledge in early modern encyclopaedias and lexicons. Second is to investigate the iconic models that are fundamental not only to the order and structure of knowledge in encyclopaedias, but also more generally to past and present systems of thought. Such an inquiry involves a consideration both of early modern aesthetic and epistemic theories, as well as contemporary discussions about image, performativity and intermedia hybridisation.


Personal Details

Contact: martin.s.mueller[at]


Studies in Theatre, Art History and Philosophy at Universität Leipzig, Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Since 2002

Associated collaborator in the SFB 447 “Kulturen des Performativen” at Freie Universität Berlin in the projects “Spectacular Experiments – Practices of Evidence Production in the 17th Century” (until 2004) and “Theatrum Scientiarum – Performativity of Knowledge as Agent of Cultural Change” (since 2005) (Project director: Prof. Dr. Helmar Schramm)


Teaching assignment at the Akademie der Darstellenden Künste, Delitzsch, Department of Art History


Research fellowship at the Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte/ Centre Allemand d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris

Since 2009

Member of the International Research Training Group “Interart Studies”. Advisor: Prof. Dr. Klaus Krüger


„Wilhelm Vernucken“. In: Die Baumeister der ‚Deutschen Renaissance‘. Ein Mythos der Kunstgeschichte? Arnold Bartetzky (Eds.). Beucha: Sax-Verlag, 2004, p. 111-42.

„Techniken enzyklopädischer Argumentation. Zu den Buchkunstprojekten einer ‚Zweiten Enzyklopädie von Tlön‘“. In: Enzyklopädien des Imaginären. Borges im künstlerischen und literarischen Kontext. Monika Schmitz-Emans, Christoph B. Schulz, Kai Fischer (Eds.). Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag [im Erscheinen].


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