The cadaverous presence: Holbein's dead Christ and Maw's suspended Upritchard

by Margreta Chance

Institution: AUT University
Year: 0
Keywords: Deconstruction; Aporia; Mimesis; Death in the image; Cadaverous presence; Absence of presence; Jacques Derrida; Maurice Blanchot; Art history; Painting; Hans Holbein the Younger; Dead Christ in the tomb; Liz Maw; Francis Upritchard; Icon; Dead Christ; Man of sorrows (Vir Dolorum); Assumption of the Virgin Mary; Mother of sorrows (Mater Dolorosa); Photography; Joel-Peter Witkin
Record ID: 1304265
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10292/7480


The Cadaverous Presence investigates two paintings: Hans Holbein the Younger’s "The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb", and Liz Maw’s "Francis Upritchard". Both works of art put a metaphysical quest for an ontological truth into question, and open up an inquiry into the place of death in the image. The project explores how the art works are both a sight, and a site, for exploring ambiguities that cannot partake of a metaphysical closure, but instead expose an aporetic relationship between truth and death. The research is guided by the theorists Maurice Blanchot, and Jacques Derrida. Their deconstructive strategies are employed to expose how the terms of a binary are not mutually exclusive, but co-exist in an infinite undecidability. Firstly, the inquiry explores how Holbein and Maw depict figures that signify an ambivalent play between the teleological and mortal ends of humankind, and how this undecidability is irreducible to a truth about death. Secondly, the inquiry explores how the image itself is the site for an undecidable ambivalence between presence and absence, and how all images are irreducible to an absolute presence. The project argues that the sight of the painted figures, and the site of the image, both expose truth as a relative structure in which death is experienced as a cadaverous, absence of presence.