The Hurt(ful) Body before Diderot:

 Pain and Suffering in Early Modern Performance and the Visual Arts
(c. 1600-1790)

On the occasion of Diderot’s three-hundredth birthday, the present conference invites papers by historians of both visual arts and performance arts, to address the hurt and hurt-causing body in early modern and eighteenth-century visual culture. The point is better to address spectacles of pain and suffering before Diderot, whereby before is to be understood both physically and chronologically, in terms of images he saw and those that belong to a wider Ancien Régime visual and performance culture.

Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century medicine, philosophy and works of fiction treated pain and suffering as contents of consciousness. Hurt and grief fixed the self in a state of disaffection and refusal, as opposed to the appetites or ‘sociable’ affects of love or admiration. During this time, the hurt body found itself at the apex of art theory (from Lomazzo to Le Brun), informing academic aesthetics, while the genre of tragedy, climaxing in the plays of Racine, was shaping the image of the actor’s craft. Images of saintly suffering were a fixture of post-Trentian Catholic life, but after 1600 they were incrementally visible in both civic theatre and popular imagery as well as aristocratic collecting. All of this culminates in the writings of Diderot, who was an assiduous admirer of spectacles of grief, pest scenes and other sujets de fracas. Such affinities, as present in his criticism as his commentaries on the tableau and the self-possessed actor, seem now more difficult to place, in part because so little is known of the rationale of the spectacle of hurt in the 150 years that preceded him, especially in relation to its socio-historical and performative context. Moreover, accounts of the period tend to segregate semiotic or iconographical developments (explaining continued interest for the Le Brun’s Traité de Passions and its plates) from historical clues that speak to the peculiar positionality of bodies in and of hurt. The disjunctive image of pain and suffering is today too often regarded as simply ‘emotive’, an expression like any other for artists and actors to master.

Through the impact of scholars like Jonathan Sawday, Erika Fischer-Lichte and Amelia Jones, present-day historians are familiar with problems of performativity and ephemerality, of body presence and the spectator’s participative witnessing and intervention. The hurt body can accommodate new diverse and perceptive approaches of the early modern body, as a body in withdrawal, a ‘communicative’ body in flux, or a body split in its desire to escape alterity and a corporeal ‘prison’. Time seems ripe for a self-standing history of the hurt(ful) body, illustrated through staging practices as well as material images (paintings, sculptures, prints), and addressing practices of making, acting and viewing; censorship and divulgation; collecting, directing and interpreting. The conference invites papers that revisit historical forms, practices and pressures of the hurt body, from the staging of blood and the representations of Hercules’ self-immolation to distressed audiences. Maintaining an interdisciplinary focus, speakers might address imaginaries of the hurt body recovered through stage praxis, visual representation and dramatic text. It welcomes papers exploring archival sources documenting (theatrical) communication between audiences and ‘hurt bodies’, or exploring public and elite spaces of performance, urban events and exhibition sites where Diderot and Ancien Régime audiences experienced such encounters. 




Thursday - 21 November 2013

09.30   Inscription and coffee/tea

10:00   Welcome and introduction to the conference theme by

Karel VANHAESEBROUCK (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Tomas MACSOTAY (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) and Kornee VAN DER HAVEN (Ghent University)

10:30   Keynote Lecture

Jonathan SAWDAY (Saint Louis University) – Three forms of Renaissance Pain: Michel de Montaigne, John Donne, and Robert Burton

11.30   Coffee/tea break

12:00    Session 1 Empathy and Compassion


Jan Frans VAN DIJKHUIZEN (Leiden University) – Pain and Compassion in Early Modern England: Changing Perceptions, c. 1560–1680

Jetze TOUBER (Utrecht University) – Engineering Empathy: Antonio Gallonio (1556-1605) and Inventions of Martyrology in the Confessional Age

13:30   Lunch

14:30   Session 2 Pain and Public Violence

Chair: Kornee VAN DER HAVEN

Frans-Willem KORSTEN (Leiden University) – Justifiable Pain: From Torture to Cruelty in the Dutch Republic

Inger LEEMANS (VU Amsterdam) –  Clashing bodies. The physicality of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange 1650-1750

16:00   Coffee/tea break

16:30   Session 3 Acting the Victim

Chair: Christian BIET

Charlotte BOUTEILLE-MEISTER (Paris X-Nanterre) – "Flamme qui m’est un doux zéphire, / Parmi l’ardeur de mon martyre" (Céciliade, 1606): does the martyr’s ambiguous suffering allow any pathetic response?

Stijn BUSSELS (Leiden University) – ‘No knife, no sting is sharper, than this feeling that cuts through the heart’: Longinus' On the Sublime and Vondel’s Brothers

Bram VAN OOSTVELDT (University of Amsterdam) – Flying, diving and dying bodies. The Pièces à Machines of the Sublime


18:30   End

Friday - 22 November 2013


10:00   Keynote Lecture

Christian BIET (Paris X-Nanterre) – Bloody suffering, performed suffering and recited suffering in the French 17th & 18th century: spectacle and text

11:00   Coffee/tea break

11:30   Session 4  Hurt Responses 

Chair: Tomas MACSOTAY

Jürgen PIETERS (Ghent University) – Hurtful Hamlet: The tragedy of consolation

Koen JONCKHEERE (Ghent University) – The meaning of the pose: Hurting the divine body in an age of Iconoclasm

13:00   Lunch

14:00  Roundtable discussion – Early Modern Theatricality and the Hurt Body

Chair: Frans-Willem KORSTEN (Leiden University)

15:00   Coffee/tea break

15:30   Session 5 Enlightenment Purifications

Chair: Christophe MADELEIN (Ghent University)

Christel STALPAERT (Ghent University) – Reading and Thinking Vermeer with Spinoza. Ethics of the Hurt(ful) Body in the Seventeenth century

Tomas MACSOTAY (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) – Sightlessness, disorientation and corporeal Pathos in the Paris Academy

Aris SARAFIANOS (University of Ioannina) – The Scaffold, the Stage and the Gallery: The Politics of Suffering and the Contested Power of “Imitated Distress” in Eighteenth-Century Art Worlds

17:30  Concluding Remarks