Spring 2013 Friends LEcture Series


Visualising Knowledge in Early Modern Europe

Wax and Bone: The Re-assemblage of the Body in Early Modern Cabinets of Display

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

17.30, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

Speaker(s): Professor Rose Marie San Juan (Early Modern Italian art and visual culture, University College London)

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission

Organised by: Professor Joanna Woodall with Dr Eric Jorink

display cabinet containing sculpture of human form showing muscle and bone
Photo: Rose Marie San Juan



The combination of coloured wax and human bone in early modern displays of the ‘living’ human body warrants consideration. After all, both of these materials held fraught relations to death, be it wax’s association with the death mask and the votive offering or the proliferation of skulls and skeletons in established visual imagery of the afterlife. But the conceptualization of these materials was also undergoing change, in part due to practices of display, which did not avoid the mixtures of objects that had arrived at the cabinet as different in type and status. Thus the anatomical, religious, ethnographic, and curious cohabited the same cabinets and constantly moved to and from different kinds of cabinets. In the process, material resemblance undermined difference of type and status, shifting the terms under which wax and bones were deployed within new anatomical models of the human body. Professor Rose Marie San Juan will argue that what emerged was the body as assemblage rather than the re-animation of the organic body.

Rose Marie San Juan teaches and writes on early modern Italian art and culture (especially Rome and Naples), on new forms of technology (print culture, film) in relation to urban change, and on the reconception of the visual image through travel, cross-cultural exchange, and the emergence of natural history and cabinets of curiosities. She studied at the University of Toronto and The Warburg Institute, and did her Ph.D. dissertation on the myth of Orpheus in Italian Renaissance culture. Her many articles and publications include Rome: a city out of print (2001), Vertiginous Mirrors The Animation of the Visual Image and Early Modern Travel (2011), and Film and Urban Space: Critical Possibilities (co-authored with Geraldine Pratt, 2013). She is currently working on the representation of the human body in practices of collecting curiosities and early scientific knowledge.

The Spring 2013 Friends Lecture Series brings together leading historians of art and of science to consider ways in which knowledge was made visible in Early Modern Europe. The series builds upon and critically engages with Svetlana Alpers’ ground-breaking book, The Art of Describing. Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century (1983). It addresses a range of visual materials, including bone and wax, tables and charts, as well as oil paintings and prints. The lectures will explore the quest for knowledge with reference to physical spaces such as the humanist cabinet, the Kunstkammer and the anatomy theatre. The series is organised in conjunction with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation interdisciplinary MA on Visualizing Knowledge in the Early Modern Netherlands c. 1550 -1730.


Supported by Friends of The Courtauld



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