Vision and Body in the Early Modern Cabinet of Curiosities

Course code: HARTG024

Credits: 40 credits.

The fraught relation between original and replica haunts the conflicts and debates
that surround the visual image in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. A particularly productive site for considering this relation is the cabinet of curiosities, installed from the late century and bringing together the study and display of the wonders of nature with oil paintings removed from religious settings and other collections. The course will address the cabinet of curiosities and focus on three interconnected areas: (1) the cabinet's practices of collecting and contextualizing, its modes of vision, visual display, and knowledge based on the interrelation between nature and culture; (2) the emergence of the picture cabinet, its decontextualization of religious imagery, its links to the new art market, its claims about vision based on new distinctions between nature and culture; (3) the importance of the human body in the formation of forms of vision and knowledge that address the embodied nature of the senses and pursue the possibilities of mimesis, mirroring and doubling. 

Some themes of the course are the cabinet's preoccupation with animation and deterioration in the body (automatons, talking statues, embalmed foetuses and heads, wax bodies simulating life and death), the potential and limits of visual representation in relation to bodily animation and demise, the relation of the cabinet to the scientific study and dissection of the human body, and painting and print (for example, Caravaggio's controversial dead bodies, Bosch's grotesque and mutating bodies, Carracci's studies of labouring deformed bodies, scientific anatomical prints, the problems of imaging 'New World' bodies) that moved established notions of the body to the limits of its ability to signify (death, mutation, dissection, inversion).

The course will focus on Rome, Naples and Milan, where the first cabinets of curiosities were established, but it will also address other European centres and even beyond as the dispersion of objects and images and their re-contextualization in different kinds of cabinets interlinked places in unprecedented ways.

Assessment: 2 essays of 4000 words each

Course tutor: Rose Marie San Juan, History of Art.  

Page last modified on 12 aug 11 16:07