However, it was the expansion of the book market in the 16th century that brought authors’ portraits to prominence as a phenomenon in the culture of books and scholarship.

The research project first explored this important era of history, looking into the expectations surrounding this type of image and the circumstances in which such portraits were made. How would the publisher or author benefit from having financed the production of the portrait? What material and symbolic economies were responsible for transforming the author’s countenance into a paratext? What options were there for depicting authors in visual form, and what was the theory behind this practice? Last but not least, what role did the portraits of authors play in the emergence and establishment of the modern concept of the author?

The investigation focused above all on specific applications and interpretations. What do expressions and traces of early modern image practices tell us about their reception? What evidence is there of authors’ portraits influencing the way books were read and authors publicly perceived? Why and to what extent were authors’ portraits removed from books, integrated into collections, combined with signatures or presented as objects? It was particularly interesting to examine changes in how these images have been interpreted, and the way these altered readings transformed the images. Any approach to these questions must frame the issue as broadly as possible and consider the production and reception of authors’ portraits within their specific contextual positioning in the history of society, knowledge and images.


Funding: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (Federal Ministry of Education and Research, BMBF) within the framework of the MWW
Duration: May 2014 – August 2018
Project participants: Dr Hole Rößler, Lisa Neumann (student assistant), Timo Steyer (digital humanities support)