Gradiva in Art History: Archaeology, Cinema, Music

Kokek D. G.

JOURNAL OF ART HISTORY-SANAT TARIHI YILLIGI, no.31, pp.319-353, 2022 (ESCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Publication Date: 2022
  • Doi Number: 10.26650/sty.2022.1065408
  • Journal Indexes: Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), Scopus, TR DİZİN (ULAKBİM)
  • Page Numbers: pp.319-353
  • Keywords: Gradiva, Sigmund Freud, Leos Carax, Cinema du look, Know Thyself
  • Istanbul University Affiliated: No


Gradiva, Latin for "the woman who walks", is a Neo-Attica style bas-relief that became renowned as a modern mythical figure in the early 20th century. This bas-relief found during the excavations in Pompeii in the 19th century, is now exhibited in the Chiaramonti Museum in the Vatican. The figure, named as Gradiva because it depicts a walking Pompeian girl, became an icon of literature, art, and psychoanalysis primarily through Sigmund Freud. The German writer Wilhelm Jensen initiated the literary referencing of the Gradiva relief in his pioneering 1903 novella Gradiva, using the artwork as the novel's theme and introducing it to cultural history. The literary text attracted the attention of Freud, who was so interested in archaeology that he created his model of personality structure based on archaeological layers, and thus, Freud wrote a famous essay on the subject. In the 1930s, because of Freud's interpretation, Gradiva became the primary theme of surrealists whose interests were dreams and the unconscious. This theme, which numerous artists have reinterpreted in distinctive ways, has also drawn the attention of the filmmakers. Leos Carax's short film Gradiva (2014) is the most remarkable one. The cinema of Carax who is one of the founders of the Cinema du look movement following the tradition of the situationist criticism, is about the psychological processes Gradiva signifies and it also examines the fundamental problems of modern people, for instance, identity, personality, individuation, and the self. In so doing, Carax's unique art, which successfully synthesizes the heritage of classical art, particularly rhythmic and plastic arts with the new image forms, also relates to the concepts such as Richard Wagner's gesamtkuntswerk and Guy Debord's detournement. This study discusses what Gradiva, an important figure in terms of self and identity relations, symbolizes for art history, what meanings it takes, and how it mirrors the search for the self as a psychological image, particularly in the context of Leos Carax cinema.