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Visions and the Reliability of Sight, 1500–1700: Deadline Extended

Posted By Marsha Libina, Friday, May 5, 2017

During the Reformation, a period in which claims to religious truths were highly contested, attitudes toward vision and visionary experience became a vital topic of debate among religious thinkers, reformers, image-makers, and art theorists. Phenomena such as apparitions, revelations, prophecies, and dreams were thought to be grounded in sensory perception, but the fallibility of the senses raised serious concerns regarding the veracity and authenticity of visionary accounts, as well as the capacity of the religious image to transmit these accounts to a broader audience. What is more, the risk of demonic spirits infiltrating the artist’s imagination – itself conceived of as a visual process – called into question the reliability of image-makers as mediators of the divine. Representations and accounts of visions thus reinforced and disseminated authorized narratives about proper Christian belief and practice, on the one hand, and opened up a space for uncontrolled and potentially heterodox thinking, on the other.

This panel seeks to open up conversation about Early Modern anxieties surrounding visionary experience, the miraculous, and the reliability of sight, as these play out in the art of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe and the colonial Americas. In particular, it aims to investigate how visions, and the discourses surrounding them, challenged artists to invent a new visual language capable of representing a wide range of visionary experiences. We welcome papers that take a global and interdisciplinary approach.

We invite paper proposals that address such topics as:

  • Corporeal, imaginary, and intellectual vision; the role of the artistic image in facilitating contemplation of the divine
  • The artist’s imagination
  • The incorporation of scientific and theological literature on spiritual discernment into discourses on art making
  • The role of socially marginalized groups in reshaping traditional theological narratives through visionary experiences
  • The representation of visions and visionaries
  • The mobilization of images to authenticate visionary experiences
  • Issues of false or deceptive vision in art
  • Pictorial engagements with concerns about the reliability, objectivity, and certainty of vision
  • Local cults and miraculous images that brought about visions of the divine or whose foundations had visionary origins
  • The importation of European iconographies of visionary experience to the Americas

These themes are meant to serve as starting points for possible investigations. Papers that go beyond these topics are welcome.

Please submit your paper proposal by June 5, 2017 to Marsha Libina ( and Alexandra Letvin ( Your proposal should include the following:

  • Name, affiliation, email address
  • Paper title (max. 15 words)
  • Abstract (max. 150 words)
  • Keywords
  • A brief CV (max. 300 words, in ordinary CV format)

Tags:  Americas  art history  devotion  discernment  Europe  imagination  invisible  miraculous  senses  sight  vision 

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