London seminar for Early Modern Visual Culture

A Heartfelt Gesture

Monday, 22 February 2010
18.00, Department of Art History, University College London, 20-21 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0AG

Speaker(s): Brendan Prendeville (Goldsmith’s, University of London)
Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission
Organised by: Rose Marie San Juan ( and Joanna Woodall (

Edmund Husserl described Galileo as a ‘disclosing and concealing genius’, because in defining an objective reality subject to mathematical description as constituting the proper field of scientific enquiry, he blanked out or bracketed off what in Husserl’s view comprised an alternative field of enquiry: the Lebenswelt, the ‘life world’. Twentieth-century phenomenology, that of Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty in particular, sought to redress the division introduced into human self-understanding by seventeenth-century science and philosophy. Merleau-Ponty saw in painting the corrective to disembodied reason: ‘I cannot imagine how a mind could paint’. As is well known, he looked to Cézanne and Klee. The histories of painting and science are bound together, however, and in seventeenth-century realism, from late Caravaggio onward, we may find an equivalent enactment of the twofold movement of disclosure and concealment described by Husserl. This occurred in fulfilment of the imperative to create a compelling illusion of visual reality; in accentuating, to this end, the limits both of the medium and of vision itself, painters elicited a somatic response: where vision ends, feeling begins. What happened to gesture, in this context, was new and is significant.

This seminar series has been organised jointly by The Courtauld Institute of Art Research Forum and University College London.

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