Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


History of Art


Beginning in 1919, Lotte Reiniger created over sixty fairy tale films composed of ornate silhouettes shot on an animation table of her own design. She founded an experimental animation studio, collaborated with artists associated with the avant-garde, and published essays that must now be counted among the earliest tracts of film theory. Formal analysis of a selection of her films from the Weimar period, with an extended discussion of The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), reveals Reiniger’s distinct aesthetic as an ornamental mode of animation. When considered in the context of a series of exhibitions in Berlin, Bristol, London, and Manchester, Reiniger’s oeuvre emerges as a central episode in the history and theorization of experimental animation in interwar Europe. The migration of ornament (as both decorative silhouette and geometric abstraction) has been largely neglected in both film studies and art history. Drawing on Alois Riegl’s theory of ornament, this dissertation explores key moments in Reiniger’s practice that deploy qualities such as tactility, horizontality, and flatness as important facets of the ornament-in-motion. Theories of ornament are deeply connected to conceptions of the Orient and this project positions Reiniger in a landscape of Weimar cinema, where both shadow play and silhouette cutting fed orientalist fantasies on film. Reiniger used both but drew technical inspiration from the Orient, producing films that model an ethical encounter with the Other at odds with the prevailing aesthetic of orientalist cinema. This decorative aesthetic set her in uneasy relation to the avant-garde, whose strenuous attempts to distance abstraction from ornament took the form of “absolute film.” Claims for aesthetic integrity were staked out on territory these artists largely had in common. Period critics realized this and an analysis of the deployment of terms such as “ornament” and

“decorative” presents a more complex conception of opticality and abstraction, materiality and content than previously acknowledged in Weimar film scholarship. A critical review of a series of extraordinary exhibitions establishes that experimental animation was conceived in relation to its materials and that Lotte Reiniger’s practice stands as a precursor to later and better-known attempts to negotiate the relationship between the gallery and the moving image.