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Conference Proposal

Rubens and the Human Body

Two-Day International Conference, University of York
17-18 September 2010

Friday 17 September 2010, Berrick Saul Lecture Theatre

Conference Proposal

Aims and Objectives

Rubens’ fleshy and voluptuous female nudes and energetic male figures are generally regarded as embodying the 'Baroque', a common, yet controversial term designating the predominant artistic trends and ideas of the seventeenth century. Yet, the Rubensian body has suffered remarkable scholarly neglect and only a limited number of publications on selected aspects are available. This conference aims to address the lack of a systematic and comparative study of the Rubensian nude by bringing together leading scholars for the discussion of recent and novel research into this topic.

Many artistic, cultural, philosophical and even scientific practises and notions converge in the Rubensian nude and some art historical studies in recent years have begun to re-examine certain works in light of neo-stoical, scientific and medical concepts. Moreover, a great number of Rubens’ paintings underwent (or are currently undergoing) a major restoration programme which has brought important information to light on working and studio practises. The conference therefore aims to rethink the Rubensian nude by contesting and revising scholarly assumptions through a comprehensive and interdisciplinary engagement with Rubens’ painted bodies. Speakers not only include art historians, but also literary historians, conservators, and historians of early modern science. It is hoped that the diversity of approaches, methods and perspectives and the different understandings of the Rubensian nude they produce, will also lead to reflections on these painted bodies as historical reality or cultural text.

The Rubensian nude is here understood as visual representations of the nude, male or female human body attributed to Rubens himself or a member of his workshop. While, for the sake of brevity, the conceptual framework of this conference will use the term ‘Rubensian nude/body’ as an explanatory category, it is also a stated aim of this event to question the potentials and limitations of this concept. Did contemporary audiences recognise the sensuously painted ‘Rubensian body’ as a particular, if not peculiar, artistic repertoire? If yes, how did seventeenth-century viewers verbalise the visual quality of the ‘Rubensian nude’? How can we best understand seventeenth-century practises of reading and viewing the Rubensian body? It is hoped that these investigative questions will also lead to a more detailed evaluation about the paradigmatic status of the Rubensian, painted body and whether we are justified in stressing its singularity within seventeenth-century Flemish and the broader early modern European visual culture.


The conference is divided into two distinct, yet closely interrelated sections. Sections I to IV are dedicated to the invention and creation which generated and defined the Rubensian body. Workshop practises drew on a great variety of artistic and anatomical sources from media as diverse as drawings, prints, sculpture and painting thus forging complex relationships between designers, artists, printers etc. To what extent and how do Rubensian representations of the human body denote forms and practises from these media and vice versa? What painterly techniques are involved in producing the fleshiness and amplitude of the Rubensian bodies? How do these agents and processes impact on the specific visual and intellectual characteristics (such as notions of gender[ing], artistic identity etc) of the Rubensian body? Sections V to VIII on the following day will then further the discussion by investigating how these production practises informed the meaning of the Rubensian nude. Discussions will be focused on the way in which the pictorial strategies in the form of specific figurations or painterly effects generate or even undermine the interpretation thus transforming the image into a contested field of force. Papers will not only focus on individual image categories such as allegorical, mythological paintings, and, as a sub-category, the ‘Bacchic’ bodies, but will also question to what extent contemporary philosophical and recent scientific discoveries influenced the Rubensian nude. The discussion will therefore be based on evidence as wide-ranging as political, dietary, scientific and philosophical tractates and texts which circulated in Rubens’ social network or are known to have been in his library.

Attendant Publication

All papers are intended for publication as part of a collection of essays. Deadline for the submission of all manuscripts is 30 September 2011. Publication details will be available as soon as the conference programme has been finalised.


Rubens and the Human Body

Two-Day International Conference, University of York
17-18 September 2010

Friday 17 September 2010, Berrick Saul Lecture Theatre

9.00-9.45   Registration

9.45-10.00 Welcome: Cordula van Wyhe (University of York)


10.00-11.45     I. Models, Anatomy and Ecorché Figures:

Chaired by Mark Jenner (History Department, University of York)

Andrew Cunningham (History of Philosophy and Science Department, University of Cambridge)
Anatomist and Artist in the Time of Rubens (PDF , 24kb)

Suzanne Walker (Art History Faculty, Tulane University, New Orleans)
Ruben's Victims: Images of the Assaulted Male Body (PDF , 133kb)

Joost Vander Auwera (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels)
Size Matters! ON the importance and significance of life-size figures in Rubens (PDF , 94kb)

11.45-12.00   Coffee

12.00-1.30       II. The Rubensian Nude and Antiquity:

Chaired by Cordula van Wyhe (University of York)

Andreas Thielemann (Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome)
Stone to Flesh: Transformation and Transmaterialisation in Rubens’s Appropriation of the Antique

Jeremy Wood (History of Art Department, University of Nottingham)
Cupid's Body:Rubens, Parmigiano and the Antique (PDF , 7kb)

1.30-2.30    Lunch, Treehouse, Berrick Saul Building

2.30-4.00    III. Rubensian Flesh: Painting and Drawing Techniques

Chaired by Jeanne Nuechterlein (History of Art Department, University of York)

Anne Woollett (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)
Rubens: Corporeality and the Legible Body, Ca.1612 (PDF , 57kb)

Jørgen Wadum and Anne Haack Christensen (National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen)
Solid Flesh in Rubens (PDF , 57kb)

4.00-4.15    Afternoon Tea

4.15-5.45    IV. Physiognomy, Gestures and Mimicry.

Chaired by Hiroko Takahashi (Gakushuin University, Tokyo)

David Packwood (History of Art Department, University of Warwick)
The Eye of Paris (PDF , 289kb) and Shield of Medusa: Themes of Ocular Anatomy and Self-relfexicity in Ruben's Judgement of Paris 1636

Arnout Balis (Faculty of Arts, Languages and Literature, Vrije Universiteit, Brussels)
Rubens’s esoteric physiognomics

6.30 pm      Conference Banquet, Bedern Hall, York

Saturday 18 September, Berrick Saul Lecture Theatre


9.00-10.30  V. The Erotic Body in Mythological and Allegorical Paintings:

Chaired by Fiona Healy (HNA, Mainz)

Liz McGrath (Warburg Institute, University of London)
Black Bodies and Bacchanalian revels (PDF , 300kb)

Karolien de Clippel (Department of History and Art History, University of Utrecht)
On Vibrant Veils and Daring Draperies (PDF , 165kb)

10.30-10.45    Morning Coffee

10.45-12.15    VI. The Rubensian Nude and Female Fertility.

Chaired by: Joanna Woodall (Courtauld Institute London)

Margit Thøfner (School of World Art Studies and Museology, University of East Anglia, UK)
Milky Bosoms: On Rubens, Breasts and Maternity (PDF , 179kb)

Lucy Davis (Kunsthistorisches Institut Florence/Max Planck Institut)
Silenus and aging male body (PDF , 6kb)

12.15-2.00  Lunch, Treehouse, Berrick Saul Building

2.00-3.45    VII. The Bacchic Nude:

Chaired by David Jaffe (National Gallery, London)

Christine Göttler (Institut fuer Kunstgeschichte, University of Bern. CH)
The Secrets of Silenius (PDF , 68kb) : Art mythology and local history in early seventeenth-century Antwerp. Ruben's Sleeping Silenus in the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts 

Irene Schaudies (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels)
"Boistrous druncken headed imaginary gods" (PDF , 64kb) The bacchic bodies of Rubens & Jordaens

3.45-4.00    Afternoon Tea

4.00-5.30    VIII. Concepts of Health, Science and Morality:

Chaired by Margit Thøfner (School of World Art Studies and Museology, University of East Anglia)

Katerina Georgoulia (University of York)
Rubens and the early modern dietary science (PDF , 58kb)

Jacques Bos (Department of Philosophy, Universiteit van Amsterdam)
Rubens and seventeenth-century medical psychology (PDF , 51kb)

6.00 pm      Champagne Reception and Departure

Please contact the administrative assistant for this conference Ms Jasmine Allen for any queries at


Conference Poster

Poster from the Two-day Internation Conference on RUbens and the Human Body held in York September 2010