Reassessing Kantorowicz's The King's Two Bodies: Representations of Secular Power in Word and Image

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Since its publication in 1957, Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies has achieved canonical status in the field of medieval history. This sweeping account of medieval political theology describes how the king came to be perceived as a gemina persona, possessing both a “body natural” (material and mortal) and a “body politic” (immaterial and immortal). While art historians frequently cite the book in their analyses of medieval iconography, many scholars have criticized Kantorowicz’s study for a variety of perceived faults, in particular for being reductive or anachronistic, as epitomized by its application of an early modern (Tudor) political theory to earlier centuries. The papers presented in this session will critically engage with Kantorowicz’s paradigm of the king’s two bodies in order to reassess its benefits and/or limitations as a means of interpreting medieval texts and images. The session aims to interrogate Kantorowicz’s methods and conclusions, to examine the utility of the “two bodies” as a hermeneutic paradigm, and to consider the implications of this provocative book for twenty-first-century scholarship.Melanie Hanan , Shannon Wearing