„Furrowed brow and chin in hand“

Hole Rößler

During the “Future Day” event at the Herzog August Bibliothek, school children learned about the project “Politics for the Image” – and demonstrated a keen sense for judging the credibility of authors’ portraits.

F. W. Brandshagen: Hermann Hamelmann. Aus: Opera Genealogico-Historica de Westphalia & Saxonia Inferiori. Lemgo: Meyer, 1711 (Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, A 8771).

It was obvious to Pauline and Zoe: “If you write a children’s book, you have to have a picture of yourself smiling and looking as friendly as possible so kids would be interested in it.” And what if it’s a writer of a scientific treatise? “Then he has to look serious and attentive,” suggested the two 14-year-old participants of “Future Day”, held at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel on 23 April 2015. As in previous years, the event offered pupils the chance to become acquainted with various professions at the library and carry out small tasks on their own.

A wall of books as proof of learning and knowledge

Pauline, Zoe and their peers visited the department of Research Planning and Research Projects where they spoke with this year’s departmental representatives, Hole Rößler, research associate in the MWW research project “Politics of the Image” and the research assistant Lea Hagedorn. In a workshop titled “Researching the Image: Portraits of Scholars Past and Present”, the pupils gained an overview of the humanities and cultural studies research activities at the library, after which they learned more about the research project by way of several examples. The researchers showed them various portraits of scholars and writers from the past four centuries which contained examples of iconographic and thematic traditions – not least of all the “wall of books” in the background which has always been a mark of scholarship and knowledge since ancient times.

Although the participants recognised the importance of the literary genre in influencing the authors’ portraits, they pointed out that social status, expressed by attributes and gestures, played a significant role as well. Felix, for example, thought that the author should have worn a suit, and that the book should have been included in the photo as well. Ole added that the writer should have taken a “philosopher’s pose with a furrowed brow and his chin in his hand.” However, an overabundance of intellectual images can be off-putting as well, as “the classical scholar surrounded by his books often appears disconnected from the world, almost old-fashioned.”

Staged versus authentic 

In order to apply and expand on what they learned, the pupils were given several portraits to analyse, along with a glossary of the most important types of portraits. Using this material, they had to answer several questions, and at the end, present their findings to the group and discuss them together. The most relevant question for the participants centred on the credibility of the portraits, which they described as either “staged” or “authentic”. The fact that the impression of authenticity is often evoked with “staged” pictures – i.e. the intentional use of image politics – was one of the new insights which the pupils discovered on their own at the “Future Day” event.