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The Sphinx on the Table: Sigmund Freuds Art Collection and the Development of Psychoanalysis
     

The Sphinx on the Table: Sigmund Freuds Art Collection and the Development of Psychoanalysis

by Janine Burke
 

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Sigmund Freuds collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities is one of the art worlds best-kept secrets. Over a forty year period he amassed an extraordinary array of nearly three thousand statues, vases, reliefs, busts, rings and prints.
For Freud, psychoanalysis and his art collection developed together in a symbiotic, nourishing relationship, each

Overview

Sigmund Freuds collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities is one of the art worlds best-kept secrets. Over a forty year period he amassed an extraordinary array of nearly three thousand statues, vases, reliefs, busts, rings and prints.
For Freud, psychoanalysis and his art collection developed together in a symbiotic, nourishing relationship, each informing and enriching the other. Freud used myth to illustrate controversial theories like the Oedipus complex, situating ancient symbolism in a modern context. He explored the archaeology of the mind, unearthing his patients dreams and memories while creating a personal museum of ancient treasure. Freud compared the process to analysis, where he, "cleared away material, layer by layer", to the technique of excavating a buried city.
To create a portrait of Freud the art collector, Janine Burke builds a vibrant, richly detailed and intimate image of his life and times, tracing Freuds taste for beautiful things back to his earliest years. The Sphinx on the Table is set against the glittering, decadent, backdrop of fin-de-siecle Vienna where an artistic flowering took place in painting, theater, writing and architecture.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Burke opens a narrow window and provides a rich view of Freud the man in this sympathetic but not hagiographic account. An obsessive collector of antiquities, especially small Egyptian, Greek and Roman statues, Freud made his consulting room into a museum and took much of his enormous collection with him on holiday. Well aware that collecting reflects sublimated need, Freud never asked himself what that need was, though he used his antiquities to bind himself to colleagues and stimulate analysands. Freud's "old and grubby gods" provided objective correlatives for his theories. Yet some of them, such as his favorite little bronze of Athena, provided evidence of psychic forces-especially feminine ones-that he was neither able to integrate into his theories nor acknowledge as part of himself. Burke anchors discussion of the major areas of Freud's collection in a sketchy chronological biography, creating unnecessary confusion. However, chapters on the American poet H.D.'s relationship with Freud, and on Freud's flight from the Nazis and his last days in exile, are fascinating and poignant. This is an illuminating portrait of a man whose intellect was rooted in sensuality and whose neuroses were part of his genius. 24 pages of photos not seen by PW. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"Freud did not like the Venus de Milo. She was not his type of girl. But he did not have the courage to say so." So writes Burke, an Australia-based art historian, biographer, and novelist, in this look at Freud through his favorite objects: antique figurines, pictures, buildings, and ornaments of myth. Having digested several biographies and some key works in psychoanalysis, Burke brings a new perspective to Freud's life and times from aesthetics, symbolism, and history. Dream interpretation, Oedipus, women, Jung and other followers, family, and articulate patients like poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) are discussed along with Freud's travels, art purchases, and favorite museums. Burke's prose rises above the ordinary, e.g., on Freud's avoidance of grief: "Sharing implies need and vulnerability, a democracy of feeling, the warm messiness of intimacy." A considerable achievement, overdue given its importance, this book adds to an understanding of an enigmatic figure whose analytic prowess was far from complete. Highly recommended for larger general collections and specialized collections in psychology, art history and criticism, and biography.-E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
On the 150th anniversary of his birth comes a fresh look at the founder of psychoanalysis as a dedicated collector of antiquities. Australian art historian and biographer Burke tackles her subject chronologically, introducing Freud (1856-1939) as a three-year-old acquiring the childhood memories on which, she says, he "built the entire edifice of psychoanalysis" and concluding with his funeral in London. Exposed to the glories of art in Paris during the 1880s, when he studied under neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, he did not become a collector until he was 40, inspired by a visit to Florence in 1896. Over the next four decades, Freud acquired more than 2,000 statues, vases, reliefs, busts, fragments of papyrus, rings, precious stones and prints, which he arranged in a crowded display in his study. He also collected Greek and Roman works, but he had a special passion for the Egyptians. Burke contends that Freud began acquiring Egyptian tomb art while mourning the death of his father and that psychoanalysis and art-collecting developed together, each nourishing the other. Writing during an era of great archaeological discoveries, Freud compared the work of the archaeologist to that of the psychoanalyst, who must uncover layer after layer of dreams and memories before reaching the deepest, most valuable treasures. The author pays particular attention to Oedipus, with whom, she says, Freud identified as a man of destiny, and to the Sphinx, that symbol of troublesome femininity. Burke recounts how Freud's formulation of the Oedipus complex eliminated the Sphinx (present in the original myth) and argues that his creativity was not scientific but was inspired by the myths and heroic legends ofhis childhood. Whatever one makes of this analysis, the author has created a rich portrait of Freud's life in Vienna and his purchasing travels to Italy and Greece. An intriguing excavation that reveals Freud's deep interest in archaeology, his distaste for modern art and his acquisitive nature.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802718341
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
05/26/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
464
File size:
6 MB

Meet the Author

Janine Burke is the award-winning author of fifteen books of art history, biography and fiction. She has lectured extensively on art, curated exhibitions, written for newspapers and journals and acted as a consultant to films and documentaries. Dr. Burke has the cooperation of the Freud Museum, London where the collection is housed.

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