Between the artwork and its 'actualization': A footnote to art history in Benjamin's 'work of art' essay

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This article analyses a footnote to the third version of the 'Work of Art' essay in which Walter Benjamin presents an account of 'a certain oscillation' between 'cult value' and 'exhibition value' as typical of the reception of all works of art. Benjamin's example in that footnote is the Sistine Madonna (1512-13), a painting by Raphael in the Dresden Gemäldegalerie that has played an important part in German aesthetics since Winckelmann. Benjamin's footnote on the Sistine Madonna, along with his critique of Hegel's aesthetics in that context, demand to be understood in relation to his remarks on Dada elsewhere in the artwork essay, and to his claim that technological reproducibility leads to the 'actualization' of the original reproduced. In that connection, the article concludes with an analysis of Kurt Schwitters's 1921 montage picture Knave Child Madonna with Horse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-358
Number of pages28
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • Actualization
  • Cult value
  • Dada
  • Exhibition value
  • Hegel's Aesthetics
  • Schwitters
  • Sistine Madonna
  • Technological reproducibility


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