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Lecture | Online Museum Talks

Online Museum Talk: Kress Talks: Evaluating the Sources / A Woman’s Place is in the Garden

  • Margaret Mansfield, Catherine Powell
Wednesday 28 October 2020
Museum Talks at the Leiden Department of Art History

Margaret Mansfield & Catherine Powell

The Department of Art History Leiden cordially invites you to the online Kress Talks of Margaret Mansfield, Kress Fellow, University of California, Santa Barbara and Catherine Powell, Kress Fellow, University of Texas at Austin.

Philips Angel, “Kourma Avtar” from Deex Avtaars, 1658, University of Leiden Special Collections

Margaret Mansfield: Evaluating the Sources: Incarnations of Vishnu introduced to Europeans

Deities with blue-black skin, the head of a man with the body of a fish, or many weapon-wielding arms marked a significant departure from Early Modern Christian European understanding. Travelogues, such as those attributed to Philip Baldaeus (1672) and Olfert Dapper (1672) provided European readers with descriptions and images of the rituals and religions of the Malabar and Coromandel Coasts of India. Baldaeus was a Dutch Reformed minister who lived and traveled around India and Ceylon for nearly a decade. Dapper never left Holland, yet published travelogues prolifically. The subsequent rate of translation, citation, and recycling of Baldaeus and Dapper’s work over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries proved their contributions on this subject to be foundational for a European conception of the subcontinent.

Images of the Ten Avatars, or incarnations, of Vishnu were first introduced to Europeans through Abraham Roger’s De Open-Deure tot het Verborgen Heydendom (1651) and Athanasius Kircher’s China Illustrata (1665). Baldaeus and Dapper, their publishers, and the engravers who contributed to these texts certainly relied on these previously published European versions of the Ten Avatars of Vishnu, as well as manuscripts and miniatures by Europeans and Indian individuals created on the subcontinent and imported to Amsterdam. This talk evaluates the confirmed and potential source materials for Baldaeus and Dapper’s versions of the Ten Avatars of Vishnu. Further, it assesses how visual citation of earlier imagery is a reflection of the social networks and religious and economic biases of the creators of the illustrated travelogues. One such source which unities Baldaeus and Dapper’s work is Philips Angel’s Deex Avtaars (1658) manuscript, the only existing photocopy of which resides in the University of Leiden’s Special Collections. The ways in which Baldaeus’ and Dapper’s engravers gave a distinct “new life”, or “reincarnation” to the Ten Avatars compared to the source images illuminates the particular goals, biases, and target audiences of each of the published travelogues.

Willem Isaacsz. Van Swanenburg, after Jan Cornelisz. Van ‘t Woudt, Hortus Botanicus of the Universiteit Leiden (Detail), 1610

Catherine Powell, A Woman’s Place is in the Garden: examining the role of the Leiden Hortus Botanicus as a space of female agency in the early modern period

Orphanages, hospitals, old-age homes: In early modern Netherlands, there were few places where women could participate in public life and influence public discourse. Of course, women could assist their husbands at the shop, or even take over upon widowhood. Beyond such activities of economic subsistence, however, opportunities for female participation were scant and mostly existed within the private or quasi-private realm. Certainly, women were not welcome within the more prestigious professional institutions, such as the Royal Society in London, or in the universities. At the Leiden Hortus Botanicus, however, things were different: women could come to the garden and learn about herbs, plants, and flowers. They could also come visit the garden for social purposes, or even to exercise their artistic abilities. Even more critically, a woman could contribute to the creation and development of the garden by sharing specimens and the experience drawn from her own garden. She could also contribute to the dissemination of knowledge through art production as it related to the botanical garden.

This paper examines the role of the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden during the last quarter of the seventeenth century as a site of female agency, meaning a space where women could participate in the creation and dissemination of knowledge and fashioning of her identity, notwithstanding their gender.  The particular focus of the paper is on the relationship between artistic patron and amateur botanist Agnes Block (1629-1704) and Hortus director Paul Hermann (1646-1695). An examination of contemporary paintings, drawings, and prints, botanical treatises, and literature provides supporting evidence for the proposition that the Leiden Hortus was a public space where women could blossom.


Please register via this link. You will then receive the link to join the online lecture on October 28.

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