Norbert Elias, Amsterdam 1983 Photo © Gerard J. Holzmann

Objects from the collection of Sociologist
Norbert Elias (b. 22 June 1897 - d. 1 August 1990)

The masks and figurines shown were part of the personal collection of sociologist Norbert Elias. Several of the objects were part of an exhibit at the Leicester Museum and Art Galery in England, from 24 April - 14 June 1970. Four of the items shown here also appeared in the catalogue to that exhibit, reproduced mostly in black and white. The mask in the first image shown below appeared also on the cover of that catalogue.

Prof. Elias was interested in having more of his collection documented, with the aim of one day collecting these images with an explanatory essay in a small book. To help with this project, I started photographing parts of the collection in 1983, and continued at intervals until 1987. In total I documented about 40 of the best objects from the collection (a very small fraction of the total), and made about 1,600 negatives. All photos were made in Amsterdam with studio flash, using several different cameras, on 4x5", 6x6cm, and 35mm film.

Norbert Elias passed away at his home in Amsterdam on 1 August 1990, still very actively working. The planned book was not completed. Many of the images are hauntingly beautiful, and no doubt all have a story attached to them that alas can no longer be told.

In March 2014, Robert Leckie, exhibitions curator for the Gasworks Galery in London enquired about exhibiting some of the photos, as part of a series of exhibits inspured by Elias' book The Civilizing Process, which was first published in 1939. To support the exhibit the relatively low resolution images from the original version of this webpage were rescanned from the negatives at higher resolution, and re-processed in Photoshop. The negatives were scanned and processed at 6400x9600 pixels and then downsampled to 3200x4800 pixels.

    The images below were derived from these files and are resized for webdisplay at 320x480 pixels. You can also click on each image to see the same image at 600x900 pixels.

    The higher resolution 3200x4800 image files can be made available in tif format in srgb colorspace. Send a message to gerard [atsign] spinroot [dot] com if interested, with a description of the intended use.

All photos on this page are © Gerard J. Holzmann, 1983-1987, and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission.


1. Masks




2. Twin Statues



3. Heads



4. Statues


5. Others