Peter Geimer

Adolph Menzel, Rüstungen (Detail), 1815

Adolph Menzel, Armor (detail), 1815

Prof. Dr. Peter Geimer


Research Project

The past is unobservable. Everyone has heard about it or read about it, remembers it or has seen historical pictures or models of past events, but no image can recreate those moments with their original integrity. Therefore every historical reconstruction relies on a combination of visibility and non-visibility, presence and absence, knowledge and imagination. In view of this, how does something that could be described as pictorial Evidenz of the historic past come about? Initially a distinction should be made between two contrary-motion yet interconnected processes of visual reconstruction: on one hand, the interpretation of visible traces, remnants, and legacies is used as a means to appropriate the past, on the other hand, retrospective processes of reanimation, narrativization, and fictionalization are used to “reconstruct” the past. The premise of this research project is that neither of these two ways of generating pictorial Evidenz is in itself sufficient to provide a complex picture of the past and that they therefore have need of special forms of mediation between trace and animation, witness and fiction, facticity and illusion.

The history and aesthetics of these forms of mediation are the focus of this research project. My point of entry is nineteenth-century history painting, specifically its pictorial re-enactments and reality effects; my research will then progress through different forms of visual reconstruction (and the critique of reconstruction) via photography and film to contemporary art. The particular challenge presented by this research is to formulate, within the framework indicated here, a history and theory of the power of historical imagination in the visual arts that not only does justice to the “veto rights of the sources” but is also capable of specifically identifying the productive potential and unavoidability of fiction, imagination and illusion—rather than coming up with yet more dismissive references to deception, suggestion, and veiled realities: “Without recourse to illusion I’m no more than my own defective dentures” (Peter Handke, Repetition).


Prof. Dr. Peter Geimer studied Art History, Modern German Literature, and Philosophy in Bonn, Cologne, Marburg, and Paris. 1992: MA in Art History at the Philipps-Universität, Marburg (MA thesis on the wall paintings of Eugène Delacroix in St. Sulpice, Paris). 1997: PhD in Art History at Marburg University (“Die Vergangenheit der Kunst. Strategien der Nachträglichkeit im 18. Jahrhundert” ). 1997–99: Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin. 1999–2001: Research scholar at the Collaborative Research Center “Literature and Anthropology” at the University of Konstanz. 2001–04: Research scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin. 2004–10: Research associate at the Chair of Science Studies at ETH Zurich. 2005–09: Member of the NCCR “Iconic Criticism” at the University of Basel. 2008: Habilitation in Art History at the University of Basel. 2010: Professor of Historical Image Studies and Art History at the University of Bielefeld. Since winter semester 2010–11 Professor of Recent and Contemporary Art History at the Freie Universität, Berlin.

Research Interests

  • History painting
  • History and theory of photography
  • History and theory of film
  • Cultural history of the Thing
  • History of science


Derrida ist nicht zu Hause. Begegnungen mit Abwesenden. With an epilogue by Marcel Beyer, Hamburg: Philo Fine Arts 2013.

Nachleben und Rekonstruktion. Vergangenheit im Bild, Peter Geimer and Michael Hagner (eds.), Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink Verlag 2012.

Bilder aus Versehen. Eine Geschichte fotografischer Erscheinungen, Hamburg: Philo Fine Arts 2010.

Theorien der Fotografie, Hamburg: Junius 2009 (3rd edition 2011).

Ordnungen der Sichtbarkeit. Fotografie in Wissenschaft, Technologie und Kunst, Peter Geimer (ed.), Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp 2002 (2nd edition 2004).

Die Vergangenheit der Kunst. Strategien der Nachträglichkeit im 18. Jahrhundert, Weimar: VDG 2002.



Prof. Dr. Peter Geimer

Center for Advanced Studies BildEvidenz

Arnimallee 10
14195 Berlin

Room 203
Tel.: +49(0)30-838-53849

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