23 Oct 2012 12:30pm - 2:30pm CRASSH, Seminar room SG1, Ground floor


Mary Laven (University of Cambridge)
Maia Nuku (University of Cambridge)


Mary Laven (History Faculty, Cambridge) 

Votive objects in Renaissance Italy


Early modern Catholic devotion was strikinglycontractualBelievers regularly struck deals with God; the Virgin Mary and saints acted as intermediaries or agents; and at the heart of these transactions were things.In my paper, I shall focus on ex votos, gifts delivered to the tomb of a saint or a Marian shrine in fulfilment of a promise, either in expectation or recognition of a miracle granted. Ex votos came in many shapes and sizes. They were commonly made of wax, silver or wood. From the latter half of the fifteenth century, painted tablets representing miracles became popular. I shall investigate the meanings of these different kinds of object and assess the motives behind the votive choices of Renaissance consumers.


Maia Nuku (Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge)

Encounters with Missionaries in 18th-Century Polynesia

Human interaction with the divine realm in 18th century Polynesia was strikingly contractual. Individuals regularly struck deals with gods or atua either individually or via intermediaries (ritual specialists, known as ta’unga in Tahiti). Crucially, at the heart of these transactions were things: complex assemblages which although not apparently uniform in a visual sense, nevertheless conformed materially in that they incorporated rare, valuable and tapu materials such as coconut fibre bindings, bone, hair and feathers.


In 1775, Viceroy Amat of Peru attempted to establish a Catholic mission in Tahiti on behalf of the King of Spain; less than twenty years later the London Missionary Society landed the first of a wave of Protestant evangelists who would attempt to establish an outpost in Tahiti & her surrounding islands. This paper looks specifically at the cargo of European missionary activity in the region & examines the ways in which islanders responded and reacted to the things missionaries brought with them – the ‘stuff of religion’ – which can enhance our understanding of Polynesian engagements with the divine and missionary encounter in general.


Open to all. No registration required

Part of the Things: Early Modern Material Cultures Seminar series.

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