The Great Doctor’s Unresolved Confrontation with Antisemitism, Death, and Homoeroticism; His Passion for Paintings; and the Writer in His Footsteps
After a visit to the cathedral at Orvieto in Italy, Sigmund Freud deemed Luca Signorelli’s frescoes the greatest artwork he’d ever encountered; yet, a year later, he couldn’t recall the artist’s name. When the name came back to him, the images he had so admired vanished from his mind’s eye. This is known as the “Signorelli parapraxis” in the annals of Freudian psychoanalysis and is a famous example from Freud’s own life of his principle of repressed memory. What was at the bottom of this? There have been many theories on the subject, but Nicholas Fox Weber is the first to study the actual Signorelli frescoes for clues.
What Weber finds in these extraordinary Renaissance paintings provides unexpected insight into this famously confounding incident in Freud’s biography. As he sounds the depths of Freud’s feelings surrounding his masculinity and Jewish identity, Weber is drawn back into his own past, including his memories of an adolescent obsession with a much older woman.
Freud’s Trip to Orvieto is an intellectual mystery with a very personal, intimate dimension. Through rich illustrations, Weber evokes art’s singular capacity to provoke, destabilize, and enchant us, as it did Freud, and awaken our deepest memories, fears, and desires.