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Cranach's 'Judith'

Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Lucas Cranach, 1503 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)













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Project Description

Attitudes to women dying, killing and fighting, as represented in German literature and art, are at the centre of this three-year research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Women who kill, fight, or die are objects of fascination in western culture and frequently represented in literature, art and media. Under the supervision of Professor Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly (Oxford) and Professor Sarah Colvin (Edinburgh), this project will provide a pathbreaking cultural history of these representations in the German-speaking world using examples from the Renaissance to the present day.

The project began on 1 July 2005 and is organized by a Steering Committee whose five members are undertaking individual interdisciplinary research in this field. The Steering Committee, together with two postgraduates and thirteen further scholars engaged in relevant research, make up the members of the Core Group and will come together in four intensive three-day Colloquia, one every nine months during the three years of the project. These colloquia will address a precisely delineated aspect of the topic and, in each instance, a number of international scholars with particular expertise will be invited.

The project will generate the following direct outputs:

    • an edited two-volume collection of essays based on the colloquia
    • five monographs, one by each member of the Steering Committee
    • this website will make available information about the project and its colloquia
    • two completed Ph.D. theses

This project considers it essential to examine representations of female victims and killers as two sides of the same coin, to understand the intellectual and artistic models laid down in the Renaissance and the Reformation, and to proceed in a systematic manner, focusing on the German-speaking world.

The German-speaking territories are particularly significant because of their unique political and confessional diversity and because of the enormous influence the German-speaking world has exerted in the West since the Renaissance through its contributions to the development of theology, philosophy, medicine and psychology. An understanding of these theoretical disciplines underpins the work of the project as a whole. The primary material examined consists, however, of the representation of the various chosen aspects of the topic in literature and the arts, which have played a more important part in forming and articulating a national consciousness in the German-speaking world than in other Western nations because of its lack of political unity.

The project is concerned with significant case studies rather aiming at a seamless coverage of 500 years of history, art and literature. It aims to identify important bodies of material which represent the topic of women and death in earlier centuries and illuminate the present and the recent past for us. It re-examines well-known and iconic examples alongside little-known and neglected material, e.g. representations of Amazons, Joan of Arc, Judith and Ulrike Meinhof alongside court records documenting the trials of transvestite female soldiers.