Art History & Visual Material Culture webinar - JOANNA WOODALL (The Courtald Institute of Art, London): "Contemplating the Unspeakable in Seventeenth-Century Netherlandish Art. Does Christiaen van Couwenbergh's painting of white men inflicting violence on a black woman (1632) deserve interpretation?"
|We 10-03-2021 17:15 - 18:30
Prof. Dr. Joanna Woodall, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London
‘Contemplating the Unspeakable in Seventeenth-Century Netherlandish Art.
Does Christiaen van Couwenbergh's painting of white men inflicting violence on a black woman (1632) deserve interpretation?’
Does Christiaen van Couwenbergh's painting of white men inflicting violence on a black woman (1632) deserve interpretation?
In this talk I shall introduce and discuss my current research project on an oil painting which depicts a female figure with black skin and ‘African’ features fighting against restraint on the lap of a naked white man. Two more young men react to the struggle. The picture was completed in 1632 by the elite but little-known Delft artist Christiaen van Couwenbergh (1604-1667) and is currently housed in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg. My aims are to find ways of talking about and understanding this disturbing work of art as a material and historical artefact and to use it to initiate a more nuanced interrogation of how depictions of rape participated in the developing discourses of race in the early modern Netherlands. However, it is not my intention to relativize, naturalise or re-inscribe inequality and violence by insisting on the highly mediated nature of works of art. I should therefore like to consider ethics and practices of display in order to present Van Couwenbergh’s work and the broader issues that it raises to current audiences in ways that are historically rigorous, art historically informed and fully cognisant of its disturbing and potentially pernicious content. How can we address issues in the interpretation of this sensitive material for diverse gallery visitors today?
About the speaker
Joanna Woodall is professor in the History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, where she specialises in portraiture and Netherlandish art. Her most recent publications include contributions on Hendrick Goltzius’ engraving of The great Hercules and on a roemer engraved by Maria Roemers Visscher. Currently she is the joint editor of the Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 71 (2021: The Human and other Animals), and of the upcoming volume Money and representation in Europe 1400-1750: Embodying Value (Amsterdam University Press) for which she is contributing a chapter titled “Weighing things up in Maarten de Vos’s Tribunal of the Antwerp Mint 1594” (publication expected late 2021). Woodall is also the recipient of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2020-21) for the project provisionally entitled “Picturing the unspeakable. How can Christiaen van Couwenbergh’s ‘White men and a black woman’ 1632 be displayed and interpreted?”