UC Berkeley History of Art Department

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From Memory to Marble: The Frieze of the Voortrekker Monument at Pretoria

Rolf Michael Schneider, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München


My paper is about one of the largest historical narratives in marble we know. It is a frieze or, at the beginning rather several friezes, first conceived in the early 1930s and designed for the Voortrekker Monument. It was inaugurated on 16 December 1949, and was to become the National Icon of South African apartheid. In other words, it is intricate and controversial. The final frieze models, cast in plaster, were finished around October 1947 to be carved eventually in Carrara marble. The frieze is a case in point for classical archaeologists, art historians and historians alike as it allows us to reconstruct many of the complex processes involved in the making of such an ambitious narrative. Thus, in my paper, I will primarily focus on the roles, interactions and ideologies of the people who turned memory into history and history into imagery. The rich documentation around the frieze enables us to show how and why 17 years of early South African history (1835-1852) were reduced, changed and finally petrified (in)to 92 metres of over-life-sized marble. My paper has grown out of a joint book project which the art historian Elizabeth Rankin (Auckland) and I are writing together.

Prof. Dr. Rolf Michael Schneider has been invited to U.C. Berkeley as part of Berkeley's exchange program with the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.  He will be giving two lectures on behalf of the Department of History of Art and the Department of Classics.