Copies are defined by their relation to an original. The understanding and evaluation of this relationship has been changing over time. A main argument of this article is that originals and copies are phenomena with no “natural” or essential meaning outside of their specific historical settings. The idea to be explored is how changing historicity regimes have transformed notions of originals and copies over time and how these differences also are reflected in the intrinsically temporal relation between the two concepts. The discussion will be framed by two theory sets. The first is Alexander Nagel and Christopher Wood’s investigation of two kinds of temporality that vied for dominance in works of art in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The second is Walter Benjamin’s discussion of artwork in the “age of mechanical reproduction”, i.e. the twentieth century. The second half of the article seeks to add to the historical complexity described by both theory sets by introducing a concept of tradition and discussing the early modern ideals of exemplarity, emulation and copiousness.
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