Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire

25 Feb-16 Jul 2023


A major new exhibition, with an accompanying digital archive, exploring the crucial role that Freud’s collection of antiquities played in his development of the concepts and methods of psychoanalysis.

Freud’s study at 20 Maresfield Gardens contains a vast array of figurines, books and artwork that either originate from, or are inspired by, the ancient world. He was a compulsive collector of antiquities, which according to the poet H.D. were intimately bound up with his development of the concepts and methods of psychoanalysis; they helped to ‘stabilise the evanescent thought’ that was continually at risk of dissipation.

However, in the institutionalisation of Freudian theory this rich and vital source of inspiration was neglected; we tend to be presented with a version of Freud the theorist as distinct from Freud the collector.

Object and Theory

Red-figure hydria depicting the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx from the Appollonia group
‘Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire’ will seek to examine this crucial link by bringing Freud’s collection into dialogue with his theories, in the hope that they will be mutually Illuminating. Co-curated with Professor Miriam Leonard (UCL), Professor Daniel Orrells (Kings College London) and Professor Richard Armstrong (University of Houston), the exhibition will discuss six separate aspects of Freudian theory alongside representative objects from the collection, spanning his entire psychoanalytic career from the early paper ‘The Aetiology of Hysteria’ (1896) to his final completed work Moses and Monotheism (1939). We will examine how the link between object and theory is conditioned by ‘libidinal cathexis’- it was Freud’s libidinal investment in his objects that allowed them to animate his thinking

Digital Archive

The exhibition will include a comprehensive digital multimedia resource, containing video recordings, podcasts, new rotating photographs of rarely seen objects from the collection, and a list of suggested reading. By tracing the pathways of Freud’s desire as a collector, and the various ways in which he deployed the language and products of Archaeology to support his theoretical advances, we will also question our own elusive desire for ultimate meaning, which can never be wholly satisfied.