Skin and Stone: Metamorphosis and the Villa Culture of Seventeenth-Century Rome
Lisa Beaven (La Trobe University)
This paper applies the methodology of the senses to explore the theme of metamorphosis in relation to the baroque villas of Rome. While both the gardens of villas and the casini located within the gardens contained antique statuary, the collections inside differed in one crucial regard. They also contained objects of artificialia such as automata, clocks, inlaid and trick furniture, ceremonial beds, coins and instruments, as well as a small number of items of naturalia such as the petrified man in the Villa Ludovisi, or the Egyptian mummy in Villa Chigi. In spite of the intensive study of Roman villas in recent years, the presence of such objects in villa collections has been largely overlooked in favour of the collections of paintings and statuary. I will argue here for an approach that considers how visitors experienced the objects in villa collections collectively, regardless of media, and ‘built visual bridges to emphasize the playfulness of nature through the associative powers of sight’. In particular it explores the links between the petrified man in the Villa Ludovisi, that was believed to be skin turning into stone, and Bernini’s statue of Pluto and Proserpine in the same villa, which was widely perceived to be of such astonishing technical mastery that it was understood to be stone turned into flesh.
Lisa Beaven teaches art history and history at La Trobe University. Her scholarship centres on early modern Italian art and religion, patronage and collecting in Rome, and on the emotional responses to art in the counter-reformation period. Her recent interests include landscape painting and ecology, digital mapping and early modern material culture. Her book, An Ardent Patron: Cardinal Camillo Massimo and his Artistic and Antiquarian Circle: Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin and Diego Velazquez, was published in 2010 (London and Madrid), and her co-edited book (with Angela Ndalianis), Baroque to Neo-baroque: Emotion and the Seduction of the Senses, is forthcoming with MIP Press in 2018.
Respondent: Elizabeth Reid (The University of Western Australia)
Abstracts and Bios
The Early Modern Body and the Theatre of Anatomy: A Foucauldian Analysis
Prema Arasu (University of St Andrews)
The modern-day surgical theatre, in which surgeons pierce the symbolic and physical barrier of the skin and caress the inside of the human body, takes its name from its origins as a public performance. In The Body Emblazoned, Jonathan Sawday suggests that the renaissance anatomy theatre was imbued with a ‘ritualistic drama’. The dissected bodies almost always belonged to violent criminals who were subject to public dissection as a form of postmortem humiliation. Implicit in the desecration of the criminal’s body is the idea that the skin, which forms a physical and symbolic barrier, is sacred.
My presentation will draw upon Michel Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic and Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison to explore the ways in which the renaissance anatomy theatre functioned as a site of social control and served to establish and re-enforce dominant discourses. For Foucault, the body is a surface upon which the state maintains control over individuals and the body politic: social networks of domination aim to assert control over the body, which serves as an instrument or intermediary in social discipline and punishment. As a precursor to the clinic the renaissance anatomy theatre was a non-discursive formation that produced self-legitimating discourses, and re-enforced and naturalised its own authority through the scientific episteme.
Using illustrations from Andrea Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica as visual examples, I will trace the rise of the medical gaze and examine how the practice of human dissection in the early modern period changed the nature of this gaze from one that acted upon the surface of the body to one that penetrated the skin and came to perceive the previously holistic human body as an assemblage of organs and tissues.
Prema Arasu completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) at The University of Western Australia in 2017 and a Master of Letters in Modern and Contemporary Literature and Culture at the University of St Andrews in 2018. Her masters research focused on metafiction and fantasy in the work of Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones. She wishes to pursue doctoral studies at the UWA Centre for the History of Emotions in the intellectual history of the body. Her research interests include literary theory, post-theory, medical history, emotions history, speculative fiction and memetics. Her parody Twitter account, @emdsuggestions, dispenses helpful medical advice from the early modern era.
Animal Skin as Costume in the Early Modern Spanish Play
Genesis Bui (University of California, Davis)
Some of the most prominent playwrights of early modern Spain dressed their protagonists in animal skins in order to marginalise them from an orderly society. Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s character Segismundo, in La vida es sueño, is described as a composite of ‘hombre y fiera’ (man and beast) who is forcefully imprisoned and dehumanised, but is later prized as the rightful heir to the polish crown. Lope de Vega’s Las batuecas del Duque de Alba and El animal de Hungría feature prominent characters who are left to survive in the savageness of a forest isolated from noble society. Another prominent female character is Ismenia in Diego de Córdoba y Figueroa’s La sirena de Tinacria, who at an early age is shipwrecked on a deserted island. Her incivility and brusqueness is later compromised when she integrates into society and becomes a duchess. Animal skin as costume serves as an essential tool in the Spanish play because of its range of symbolic possibilities. This paper will explore the themes of animality, hybridity, domestication and savageness vs. civility. The analytical premise of this paper will ground itself on Constance Classen’s The Deepest Sense: A Cultural History of Touch and her work on ‘Animal Skins’, thus extending a literary analysis by adopting arguments from other historical and anthropological fields.
Genesis Bui is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Davis. Her research focuses on the wealth of sensory evidence found in early modern Spanish literature. Touch, above all the senses, is the most elusive and fundamental sense in her critical theory. The experiential space in Spanish prose fiction and the play, for example, provides for her opportunities to address how the symbolism of touch culturally and socially formed early modern Spain.
Black and White and Green All Over: Colouring the Villains of The King of Tars and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Jo Merrey (The University of Western Australia)
In the fourteenth-century poems The King of Tars and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, skin colour plays a part in figuring the villains of the piece. A sultan coerces the daughter of the Christian king into marriage and is later revealed to be saved when baptism changes his skin from black to white; a knight rides into Arthur’s court to subvert a Christmas game into a sacrificial quest and shifts between selves coloured in turn as green and white.
Referencing skin colour calls into question connections that could be drawn with ideas of the physical and spiritual self. In this paper I will explore how the texts suggest a distinction between virtue and villainy through skin as a marker of the nature of the individual.
Jo Merrey is a doctoral candidate at The University of Western Australia. Her research focuses on discourses involving women, clothing and agency in late medieval English texts.
Elizabethan Skin: A Readable Interface Between the Soul and the Heavens
Antonia Naarstig (University of Notre Dame)
The Elizabethan age is a fertile haven for metaphor and symbolism. In terms of the appearance and function of human skin, we can draw on primary written accounts – specifically from physicians’ notes – describing the skin of Gloriana, the Virgin Monarch herself, and the skin of her subjects. Elizabeth’s purity, propounded as an extolled virtue and as a stately concept, was also formally and consciously practised by many alchemists at the time, including John Dee and Simon Forman. In many ways, Elizabeth embodied the notion of transfiguration and refinement; this was also the function of alchemy. One primary tenet of alchemy was the concept of ‘as above, so below’, which rested on the premise that heavenly bodies influenced mortal, visceral, humoural, base ones. The heavenly bodies’ sway over Earthly ones was a topic of gravity and subject to debate and interpretation. The human skin was a medium of exchange, a permeable membrane, and could be read to diagnose conditions of both body and soul. In this paper I will explore descriptions of and theories about skin in the Elizabethan period, and how skin was employed as a diagnostic tool for maladies of character, spirit, humour and body. The planets in the Ptolemaic universe correlated to metals on Earth, and both were thought to influence human health and behaviour. The skin served as an interface between the divine soul within and the heavenly bodies above, and could be interpreted to determine the relationship between the two, thereby guiding both thought and action.
Antonia Naarstig is a doctoral candidate at the University of Notre Dame. Her research focuses on Elizabethan alchemy, creativity, the pursuit and practice of altered states and oblivion, and subsequent connections to the blossoming arts. Antonia completed her Masters in Mediaeval and Early Modern Studies at The University of Western Australia, with a thesis that examined the manifestation and employment of the Arthurian myth in the York and Tudor courts. Antonia is a writer, painter and actress, and lectures in Arts and Education at Murdoch University. She is a senior teacher at DET and an editorial collective member of Limina.
Under the Skin: Concealment and Performativity in Elite Material Cultural Heritage
Jane-Heloise Nancarrow (The University of Western Australia)
The ritual deposition of objects, or performed concealment of material remains, sometimes played a more important role in the formation of elite heritages than overt display. This paper explores the re-use of the Roman Temple of Claudius built into the foundations of Colchester Castle during the Norman Conquest, and the hidden placement of Roman spolia at Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II’s Castel Del Monte, to argue that acts of non-visual or seemingly destructive consumption still signified implicit cultural meaning for people in the past.
Building on Absence-Presence theory and the work of David Fontijn, Kate Giles and Erving Goffman, this paper explores the possibility that material invisibility was a deliberate social strategy, ‘where knowledge of hidden sites or objects may have been an authoritative resource, defining insiders from outsiders, and at odds with overall visible ordering’. Throughout history, hidden heritage may have helped to establish power relations within mixed societies, as those with the knowledge and access to concealed objects or places obtained a more privileged status than those who did not. In such cases, visual displays of heritage were not a pre-requisite for either significance or exclusivity, and secrecy became a way to subvert normative modes of knowledge and power.
This paper interrogates the relationship between tangible and intangible heritage; considering unseen material remains in the context of their experiential or performed placement to understand how people throughout history memorialised their own past. The discovery of these remains today literally brings to light the complex, nuanced ways that people employed strategies of concealment to create and shape meaningful heritage.
Jane-Heloise Nancarrow is an Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Western Australia. Her research focuses on the application of 3D digital technologies for cultural heritage, the legacy of Rome in the High Middle Ages, and spolia and memory in cross-cultural contexts. Jane led the 2016 digital heritage project ‘Emotions3D: Bringing Heritage to Life’ supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (1100–1800), and was a co-convenor of the AVRL augmented and virtual reality group. Her forthcoming monograph Ruins to Re-use will be published by Boydell and Brewer in 2019.
Skin as Visual Medicine: The Healing Function of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (1512–1516)
Emily Poore (The University of Queensland)
The nine panels of the Isenheim Altarpiece, completed by Matthias Grünewald in 1516, have been described by art historian Arthur Burkhardt (1936) as ‘the most moving and impressive series of religious paintings of the entire Middle Ages’. Grünewald’s depiction of Christ’s Passion and the physical trials of Christian saints continues to elicit awe in viewers who marvel and grimace at his dramatic style. Much of this emotional impact derives from Grünewald’s evocative depictions of sick and healthy skin. In the crucifixion scene, Christ’s gangrenous flesh is torn by brutal nails and agonising splinters; at his resurrection it is transformed into luminous splendour. In another panel, the cutis of an anthropomorphic demon bubbles with pustular blisters while his impish companions bristle with feathers.
Andree Hayum has argued that the Isenheim Altarpiece was employed as a Therapeutikum to treat a disease known as Saint Anthony’s Fire (1976). This excruciating condition tormented sufferers with an onslaught of horrifying symptoms. Benedictine monk Sigebert de Gembloux (1098) described patients with ‘ravaged limbs, blackened like charcoal…[who] lived seeing their feet and hands develop gangrene and separate from the rest of their body’.
This paper builds on Hayum’s study by exploring how Grünewald’s dermal paintings were mobilised to relieve the symptoms of Saint Anthony’s Fire. Furthermore, it will consider what this medico-religious approach reveals about late medieval concepts of cutaneous physiology. The skin will be revealed as an entity in flux that was equally subject to God’s wrath and his gracious intervention. Rather than a barrier that separated individuals from one another, the skin was regarded as a place of unity where the sick found solace in God and with one another.
Emily Poore is a doctoral candidate in Art History at The University of Queensland, investigating northern Renaissance images of diseased skin. In 2015 she received First Class Honours for her thesis, ‘The Portable Pox: Iconography of the French Disease in German Woodcuts (1496–1530)’. She has also worked in the museums sector: she co-curated ‘Wunderkammer: The Strange and the Curious’ at the UQ Art Museum in 2015 and worked as a Curatorial Assistant for ‘Five Centuries of Melancholia’, also at UQ, in 2014. Emily has also completed a Bachelor of Medical Science and worked for more than ten years as a bacteriologist.
Skin-to-Skin Contact Between Female Friends in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Othello
Anna Quercia-Thomas (University of St Andrews)
“We, Hermia, like two artificial gods,
have with our needles created both one flower,
both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion
as if our hands, our sides, voices and minds
had been incorporate.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, III.ii.202-208)
Alan Bray famously discussed the role of physical intimacy between Renaissance men – a publicly visible event in which ‘a friend’s evident favor and the influence it advertised was a gift that could readily be turned to advantage’ (The Friend, 2003). While the highly public nature of contact between men had a direct impact on their respective social statuses, women and women’s relationships with each other were relegated to a domestic sphere of which there is very little account. This cultural nuance is further represented in the discrepancy of physical contact between male friends and female friends in contemporaneous theatre.
In this paper, I will explore moments of implied skin-to-skin contact between female friends in Shakespeare’s plays through a close reading of the language used to describe the friendships of Helena and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and of Desdemona and Emilia in Othello. The touches shared by these women are never prompted through stage directions or specifically referred to as part of the play’s action. The private physical contact between them is indicative of an underlying emotional connection that did not, and could not, affect their social standing in the same way as the public ‘gift of the body’ did for men.
Anna Quercia-Thomas completed an undergraduate MA (hons) in English at the University of St Andrews in 2017 and has recently finished an MLitt in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literary Culture in 2018, aso at the University of St Andrews. She hopes to pursue doctoral studies in the future. Her research interests include Renaissance drama, friendship, affect theory, the history of emotions and queer theory.
Skin and Cloth in Acheiropoetia and Painting: Staining, Erasure and Reversibility
Richard Read (The University of Western Australia)
A calm sea smooths receptive sand. Michel Foucault likened the disappearance of man to the tide’s erasure of a figure drawing. But as lines are to drawing so stains are to paint. As the wave recedes, it leaves its transient stain on the beach. Such evanescent staining seems the perennial model of perishable cloth absorbing paint – except that the sacred formation of a perpetual image of Christ’s face on the Veronica cloth has neither causal explanation nor human mediation. The power of staining on sand and blood and sweat on cloth owes its imaginative hold on our faculties to its analogy with the receptivity of skin and the fluids (sweat, tears, blood and semen) which pass naturally or violently over, into and out of it. This paper is concerned with bodily chaos and impurity as necessary stages of liminality through which the soul must pass to redemption in various symbolic interrelationships between pre-Reformation acheiropoetia, or ‘images made without hands’. It explores the kinetic reversal embodied in the peeling of the Veronica cloth away from Christ’s face as essential to the inward effect by which true likeness in the worshipper’s heart takes over from the superficial image of human skin. While Christ’s production of images on cloth set a holy precedent for the activities of secular painters, the paper concludes with the suggestion that some of the more complex bodily and spiritual reversals of the acheiropoetia tradition are best understood in desecrated images of dirty rags in Protestant assaults on Popish superstition.
Richard Read is a full term Associate Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of the Emotions, and a Senior Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Western Australia. He was a Professor of Art History in the UWA School of Design. He has published the first book on Adrian Stokes and various articles in major journals on the relationship between literature and the visual arts, the history of art theory, nineteenth- and twentieth-century European and Australian art history, perceptual theories of American and Australian landscape painting, contemporary film, popular culture and complex images in global contexts.
Stigmata, Vitrum and Woad: Tattooing in the British Isles from Antiquity to the Early Medieval Period
Erica Steiner (The University of Sydney)
Tattooing was a far more commonplace custom in ancient and medieval Europe than has commonly been assumed by some contemporary scholars, and almost all historians prior to the 1960s. While this gradual shift undoubtedly has much to do with the ever-increasing acceptance of tattoos in modern society, the unquestioning repetition of out-dated translations of ancient sources is also to blame, the seminal work by C.P. Jones in 1987 notwithstanding. In fact, the Greeks and Romans tattooed their slaves and criminals for many centuries, and other contemporary cultures around the Mediterranean practiced tattooing as a physical representation of religious devotion and identity, with traces of both of these types of tattooing being found in the books of the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Other European cultures, beyond the Mediterranean, namely the Scythians and the Thracians, as well as various people from the British Isles – the last people in Europe to be subjugated by the Roman Empire – were also known to practice tattooing in the ancient world, but they did not do so in a penal context or one of slavery, instead they tattooed their elites, both men and women.
This paper will look at the evidence for tattooing among the people of the British Isles in antiquity and up to the early medieval period, and speculate as to what sort of form this practice may have taken in terms of the physical instruments and pigments potentially used. It will also provide suggestions as to the nature of the relationship between appearance and identity amongst these tattooed people of the British Isles, namely the Britons, the Picts and the Scots.
Erica Steiner is currently an MPhil candidate in the Celtic Studies Department at The University of Sydney, the same institution at which she attained her undergraduate degrees – a BA (Hons) in Medieval Studies and a BSc in Marine Geophysics. Aside from her thesis, which is concerned with the evidence for tattooing in the British Isles up to and including the early medieval period, her other research interests include medieval languages, how the early medieval period is portrayed in modern popular and digital culture, as well as comparative mythology and geomythology, especially on the question of the transmission of catastrophic events through oral traditions.
A Spiritual and Corporal Journey: The Tradition of Pilgrim Tattoos at the Sanctuary of Loreto
Sarah Tiboni (The University of Western Australia)
This paper intends to present the tradition of pilgrim tattoos that were in use in Loreto (Central Italy) between the second half of the sixteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. Loreto was a small village in the Papal State situated along Via Lauretana, the pilgrim trail from Rome to the Sanctuary of Loreto, which is one of the most important shrines of Marian pilgrimage in the world and known for enshrining the house in which Blessed Virgin Mary is believed to had have lived. During the pilgrimage, pilgrims would stop at the Loreto site and acquire a tattoo as an act of devotion to St Mary of Loreto and Christ of Sirolo. Tattooing functioned as an act of personalising the pilgrimage experience, and the imprinted tattoo stood as a memory of the holy place. According to existing studies, these tattoos were initially applied by Franciscan friars from the Monastery of Sirolo, which was situated in a village not far from Loreto, and later by families from Loreto who were cobblers by profession. The Museum of the Holy House of Loreto preserves a collection of original moulds, of carved boxwood blocks, that were used for the devotional tattoos. They feature symbols and images of both religious and profane subjects.
The long tradition of Loreto’s tattoos was in use in Loreto until the 1950s and was first studied in the nineteenth century by Caterina Pigorini (1845–1924), an Italian anthropologist from the Marche region who analysed the origin and meaning of this religious heritage.
Sarah Tiboni holds a Master of Arts in Archival Studies from the University of Pisa (2001); a Diploma on editing historical documentary sources from Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medioevo in Rome (2010) and a PhD in Archival Studies from the University of Siena (2016). Sarah also studied at the Archival School of Florence State Archive and works as an archivist in Italian archives. Her research interests include archival studies, abandoned childhood, ancient hospitals and Italian cultural heritage. Sarah is currently a board member of the Centro Studi Santa Rosa da Viterbo, a non-profit organisation created to study the historical archives of St Rose from Viterbo and to valorise archival studies in general.
Diseases Affecting the Skin and their Social Impact in Europe in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods
Robert Weston (The University of Western Australia)
The skin is the largest organ of the human body and is affected by a variety of illnesses. This paper examines some of the ailments that resulted in disfigurement of the skin in the medieval and early modern periods. It considers the physical and social impacts that such misfortunes had on the afflicted, on medical practitioners and on society more widely. In particular, the paper examines leprosy, smallpox, syphilis and typhus, and cases of skin discolorations and associated deformities such as rosacea and acne. It also examines the attempts by individuals to mask the effects of skin disfigurements which were often horrendous. The paper also considers the social significance of visible skin disorders as expressed in literature and poetry.
Robert Weston is an Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Western Australia. His principal field of research is European medical history in the early modern period. His book, Medical Consulting by Letter in France, 1665–1789, was published by Ashgate in 2013. He has also published chapters and journal articles on medical consultations by letter, the history of disease, masculinity, the use of violence in early modern medicine, the history of whooping cough and the role of emotions in medical practice.