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Peter Kelly receives funding for Ekphrasis project with Humboldt University

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Published Date

December 23, 2023


Fresh on the heels of an award from the Mellon Foundation, Princeton Classics is proud to announce that Professors Peter Kelly and Andrew Feldherr have secured funding for "New Approaches to Ekphrasis: Exploring the Vivid Interfaces Between Literature and Visual Representation," a venture co-sponsored by the Classical Philology department of Humboldt University in Berlin.

"We are delighted with the news that the Princeton-Humboldt Strategic Partnership Initiative has awarded us a two-year grant to support our collaborative project on ekphrasis in Classics and the contemporary imagination," said Kelly, who will be co-leading the project with Dr. habil Darja Šterbenc Erker of the Humboldt. "We look forward to working closely with our partners at the Institut für Klassische Philologie in Berlin to bring you a series of events and workshops on the topic of ekphrasis, the first of which will be taking place in Princeton in September 2024!"

Typically defined as the literary description of a visual object (especially a painting, statue, or other artwork), ekphrasis features prominently in canonical works of ancient literature from Homer to Virgil and Ovid. Yet in ancient rhetorical handbooks (known as the Progymnasmata) ekphrasis is defined as the metamorphic power of words to bring visual worlds to life. Bearing both meanings in mind, the Ekphrasis project aims to examine modern poetry as well as ancient texts that reveal conceptions, representations, and ideas associated with vivid descriptions of objects, landscapes, and human bodies from all walks of life.

"Our project will focus on ancient Roman and Greek texts containing vivid description (ekphrasis) and the reception of the motif in modern literature, where ekphrasis takes on a political function in de-canonizing and disrupting the history of the real or imagined artefact," Kelly and Erker wrote in their project description. "There is a clear awareness in contemporary poetry of the long history of ekphrasis as part of a Classical tradition, and yet despite this, ekphrasis has become a touchstone for reimagining, resisting and revitalizing this tradition. We view ekphrasis as having the potential to de-canonize European art and literature, by offering a model for how to refocus interpretations critically and creatively."

The Ekphrasis project will begin with two pilot-workshops and invites cross-disciplinary collaboration of faculty and students from the fields of Classics, Comparative Literature, and Art History. It extends a longstanding partnership between Princeton Classics and the Institut für Klassische Philologie in Berlin, which has seen numerous Princeton PhD students visit the Humboldt for dissertation research and led to the funding of several projects led by members of the Humboldt's Department of Classical Philology. The workshops are scheduled to take place across both universities in September 2024 and September 2025.