The intelligent hand, 1500-1800

Sixth Early Modern Symposium


Deadline 30 June 2014

Painted self portrait of a man in a convex mirror

Parmigianino (1503-1540), Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1523/4. Oil on panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Event details: Saturday, 8 November 2014

Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art.

The hand - the “instrument of instruments” - has fascinated artists, scientists and philosophers from Aristotle onwards. Its remarkable dexterity, anatomical complexity, and the ability to manipulate were seen as defining features distinguishing humanity from animality, as well as indicators of the superiority of the former.

Taking as its starting point the sixteenth-century humanist Dominicus Lampsonius’ claim that ‘the Netherlander / Has intelligence in his hand’, this one-day Symposium will investigate the hand both as the means and the subject of representation in Early Modern art and visual culture.

Participants are invited to explore the hand as the locus where the relations between manual labour and ingenium, workshop and academy, the ‘low’ and the ‘high’ are defined and negotiated in the production of artistic value and new knowledge. Traditionally held to be subordinate to the creative drive of the mind, the artist's hand may also be considered as an autonomous agent, manifesting itself on the surface of artworks through individual style, the manipulation of media or as an iconographic motif

We welcome proposals for papers that explore the theme of the intelligent hand from the early modern period (c.1500-1800) including painting, sculpture, architecture, decorative arts, graphic arts, and the intersections between them. Papers can explore artistic exchanges across nations and cover non-European subjects. Contributions from other disciplines, such as anthropology and the history of science, are also welcome. Topics for discussion may include, but are not limited to:


  • Formal and informal training of the artist’s hand;
  • The hand of the master and the ‘hands’ of his workshop;
  • The relationship between an artist's hand and his individual style;
  • The sense of touch in relation to sight and other senses;
  • Gesturing as the language of the hand in visual representations;
  • The hand in anatomical and scientific treatises;
  • The hand as a mnemonic device;
  • Historiography of the hand.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words along with a 150 word biography by 30 June 2014 to and


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