Dr. Carolin Behrmann

Institute of Art History in Florence, Max Planck Institute

Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Carolin Behrmann studied art history, philosophy, European ethnology as well as social and cultural sciences in Berlin, Tübingen and Bologna. From 2005 to 2011 she was a researcher at the Institute of Art and Image History at the Humboldt University in Berlin, where she obtained her doctorate with a thesis on Tyrant and Martyr. Image and History of Ideas of Law around 1600. Her research was supported by a fellowship from the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, from 2008 to 2009. Following the successful completion of her doctorate, Carolin Behrmann worked as a researcher at the Art History Institute in Florence, Max Planck Institute. From 2014 to 2019, she was a Max-Planck research group leader (W2 position) directing the Minerva-project „The Nomos of Images“. In 2020, Dr. Carolin Behrmann was a Fellow at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University, New York, where she worked on the topic Visual Common Sense (17th-18th century). Furthermore, she has been an Affiliate Researcher at the Institute of Art History in Florence, Max Planck Institute.

From October 2020 to March 2021 Dr. Carolin Behrmann was a Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center “Law as Culture” in Bonn.

Research project

„Towards a Visual Common Sense“

The ongoing global pandemic challenges critical and historical approaches to questions of norms,  normativity and the ‚common sense‘. Described as a ‚natural disaster‘ the COVID-19 crisis and its consequences seem to unite humanity under the same conditions of vulnerability. This idea of unity belongs to an imaginary that is historically anchored in the 17th century. In times of increasing internationality and wide ranging cultural encounters and conflicts the question of a common ground of different cultures, communities and societies has gained in topicality. The project focuses on the hereby developed notion of a ‚common sense‘, as common property of all human beings regardless of the variances of time ad space, that is bound to the consumption and production of a vast amount of visual culture. The project scrutinizes not the self-evidence of ‚common sense‘, but rather the production of ‚visual common sense‘ as an organized body of thought. Instead of regarding ‚common sense‘ as matter readily apparent from daily life, it has to be analyzed as „what the mind filled with historical and cultural presuppositions concludes“ (Clifford Geertz). During the 17th century natural law theories assumed a transcultural and transhistorical ‚common sense of mankind‘ as universal cause and normative foundation of humanity. Natural right, according to Hugo Grotius, provided an objective order and its principles would be apparent and evident, discernible through the senses and perceptual strategies of attentiveness. Also the comparison of different customs of nations would discern these principles common to all human kind. Whereas any forced application of dominant rule making had effected violence and necessitated a punitive and military apparatus, colonial empires build also upon missionary ethnographies to learn about the ‚common sense‘ of other cultures. They collected and learned types of knowledge relevant for governance, requiring cultural fluency, social acumen and local knowledge. The study of customs, etiquette, languages, signs and symbols as normative products of a specific culture have sustained the expansion of religious orders as well as merchant networks to understand different cultures, adapt to their rules, act as intermediaries or impose new normative standards. The project is going to analyze early modern visuality focusing on the study of cultural artifacts as constitutive of common sense normative regimes. It is going to discuss how visuality and visualizations in particular shape the notion of a ‚common sense‘ of mankind. Along with recent discussions about symbolic norm enforcement regimes that assume it is culture itself that produces juridical normativity, the project is going to explore how regimes of visibility are constitutive for the larger imaginary of humanity.

Publications (selected)


  • Tyrann und Märtyrer. Bild und Ideengeschichte des Rechts um 1600. De Gruyter 2015


  • Nomoi und Gemeinsinn der Bilder. Kunstgeschichte als Normengeschichte (forthcoming 2021, Berlin: De Gruyter)


  • Visual Studies and Image History, in: The Oxford Handbook of Law and the Humanities, Section I: Methodologies, eds. Simon Stern, Bernadette Meyler, Maksymilian Del Mar, New York: Oxford University Press 2019, 39-64.
  • Gericht aus Glas. Transparenz als Mythos normativer Konstitution, in: Inszenierung von Recht, hg. v. Laura Münkler, Julia Stenzel, München: Wilhelm Fink 2019, 74-94.
  • Bildlogik der Vagheit. Zur juridischen Ikonologie des Abwägens, in: Das Technische Bild, 2: Bilder der Präzision, hg. v. Matthias Bruhn, Sara Hillnhütter, Berlin: De Gruyter 2018, 237-247.
  • The Mirror Axiom. Legal Iconology and the Lure of Reflection, in: The Art of Law, hg. v. Eric Bousmar, Stefan Huygeba-ert, Georges Martyn, Vanessa Paumen, Xavier Rousseaux. Ius Gentium Series, New York/London: Springer 2018, 43-60.
  • At the Throne of Judgment, in: Call for Justice. Art and Law in the Burgundian Low Countries, Ausst. Kat. Museum Hof van Busleyden Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, hg. v. Samuel Mareel, Mechelen, Musea & Erfgoed: Mechelen 2018, 83–98.