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The Philosophical Image: Art, Wisdom, and the Care of the Self in the Premodern World, 1200–1700
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11/14/2019 to 11/16/2019
When: Thursday, November 14, 2019
Where: Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus
3400 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland  21218
United States
Contact: Stephen Campbell

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For more information and the full conference program please see the event flyer (PDF).

Several decades of reorientation within the discipline of art history have upended iconography’s exclusive focus on literature, theology, and intellectual history as privileged sources of meaning in pre-modern art and visual culture, while questions concerning visual communication and effect have expanded to encompass issues of spatial beholding, rhetorical modes of address, the ritual uses and therapeutic potentialities of the image, and the phenomenology of materials.

Until recently the most innovative work in this vein has emerged from the study of: medieval and late medieval devotional arts; the meditative and disciplinary modes of viewing prescribed in Catholic pastoral writings; and the spiritual-cognitive practices favored by religious orders such as the Jesuits. This conference seeks to build on this disciplinary momentum while exploring another side of image therapeutics, focusing on what we will call the philosophical image, wherein philosophy designates not only the specific doctrines advanced by ethical, logical, and metaphysical thought in a given place and time, but — more to the point — the array of practical techniques for living a life of balance and harmony, for coping with fortune and cultivating virtue, for managing spiritual and physical travails.

Without subscribing to an anachronistic dichotomy of sacred and profane, and without precluding an underlying Christian impetus, this conference seeks papers that focus on works of art designed or destined to become occasions for philosophical activity broadly construed. How, for instance, did imagery drawing upon the heritage of classical poetry, rhetoric, history, medicine, natural philosophy, or astrology — images that were, at least ostensibly, non-religious — extend the reaches and therapeutic possibilities of established Christian genres of exhortative or devotional imagery?

How did early modern viewers negotiate, and how did they learn to profit from, the "speculative" labor demanded by certain kinds of allegorical, emblematic, or proverbial imagery — imagery that often trafficked in difficulty, reflexivity, contradictoriness, undecipherability, or paradox? When did the philosophical conceit behind an image reflect back the agency of its maker, his or her ingenuity or self-conception as a healer of souls? And what are the methodological challenges that come with expanding the boundaries of the "therapeutic artifact" across the lines separating ethics and meditation, medicine and magic, rhetoric and devotion?


Susanna Berger—USC Dornsife
Lina Bolzoni—Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa
Gregory Bryda—Barnard College
C. Jean Campbell—Emory University
Stephen J. Campbell—Johns Hopkins University
Reindert Falkenburg—NYU Abu Dhabi
Frances Gage—SUNY Buffalo
Marius Hauknes–University of Notre Dame
Klaus Krüger—Freie Universität Berlin
Emanuele Lugli—Stanford University
Alexander Marr—Cambridge University
Mitchell Merback—Johns Hopkins University
Verity Platt—Cornell University
Bret Rothstein—University of Indiana
Claudia Swan—Northwestern University
Rebecca Zorach—Northwestern University

For more information and the full conference program please see the event flyer (PDF).

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