REQUIEM – The Roman Papal and Cardinal Tombs of the Early Modern Age

Introductory remarks on a research project

"Death is a great power" – as Thomas Mann’s protagonist Hans Castorp contemplates on the death-loving "Zauberberg". "In its proximity one takes one’s hat and weighs forward on the tips of one’s toes. It carries the dignitary ruffle of what has been, and oneself, one dresses strict and black in its honour."

All preoccupation with the past has always served the purpose of getting along with the present. Death thereby plays a central role. He who is being forgotten leaves behind descendants punished by their lives, and the other way around, those descendants‘ position in society will be the more safe and solid, the more reverence-ordering that "dignitary ruffle of what has been" is, with which the ancestors present the weight of their past life to the world of the living.

Our project is dedicated to the way, the creation of the "dignitary ruffle of what has been" has been realized in the form of tombs in the city of Rome in the early modern age. Not only will the Papal and Cardinal tombs developed in merely 400 years be recorded, described and have their style critically examined, as is common practise in art history, but they will also be placed within the context of the conditions of their cultural, social and political development. The funerary monuments are to experience an interpretation as purposefully used instruments of authentication, foundation, intensification and dynamism of the power and the status of their clients – the latter always stresses a tense relationship between the tombs reference to the historical personality of the deceased and the requirements of the client(s), which is to be carefully examined for each individual case.
"Sub specie aeternitatis" the representation of the deceased had to master very secular, future-referencing tasks, a fact that is only superficially paradox: The norm-conform presentation of death after a life governed by rules becomes the vehicle of the extension of sociopolitical chances of the living, i.e.: the family as perpetuation of the qualities of the deceased. The immortalisation of the dead individual becomes a means to mantain the rank and size of the family collective.

The research project REQUIEM is dedicated to the decoding of these complex stagings of the past in service of the present and the future.

Its interdisciplinary orientation results from the consideration that with a slight chance of success this work of deciphering can be achieved only through the teamwork of neighbouring disciplines of the humanities.
The Roman tombs of the Early Modern Age are of interest not only for historians and arthistorians – we strive for dialogue also with archeology and philology, anthropology and theology.

© Arne Karsten, Philipp Zitzlsperger – 15.05.2001