7 May 2014 12:00pm - 2:00pm CRASSH Seminar room SG1


Dr Maya Corry (History of Art, Cambridge)
Dr Victoria Mills  (Research Fellow in English, Darwin College, University of Cambridge)



Maya Corry, Bodily beauty and the soul in Renaissance male portraiture

It was a Renaissance commonplace that a skilled artist could produce a portrait of such naturalism that the subject appeared as if he or she were really present, and alive. Yet some Italian images of young men present sitters not as they were in reality, but as stunning beauties, idealised beyond recognition. Many such works were created in Milan in the late fifteenth century, when Leonardo da Vinci was living and working there, but this type of iconography was popular across Italy and endured into the sixteenth century.

This paper will explore the implications of these artworks for historians interested in early modern concepts of gender and identity. It will investigate the way in which young men who were often derided for their effeminacy could turn to images to reformulate these discourses. It will also explore the significance of this iconography to religious beliefs and practices. Relationships with the divine were often mediated through artworks in this period, and the spiritual value ascribed to masculine beauty could play a central role in shaping devotional, as well as gendered, identity.


Victoria Mills, Bibliomania and the Male Body in the Late Nineteenth Century

Literary depictions of nineteenth-century bibliomania are riddled with the language of disease. Thomas Frognall Dibdin’s Bibliomania; or, Book Madness (1809), for example, is an account of the ‘history, symptoms, and cure of the fatal disease’. While late-Victorian bibliomania is often pathologised and placed in relation to discourses about heredity, degeneration and the fitness of the male body, this paper draws attention to a range of texts in which book collecting is depicted in positive terms. It explores sensory experience and eroticism in depictions of book collecting, focusing on the bibliophilic dandy-aesthetes and shabby bachelor book-lovers in work by Oscar Wilde, Joris-Karl Huysmans, George Gissing and Eugene Field.

The paper examines fiction’s account of how men form and reinvent themselves through the act of book collecting and of how male subjects and book-objects blend, transform and physically alter each other. By introducing a phenomenological perspective on the corporeal experience of book love, the paper highlights the interplay of the senses as instrumental in the construction of masculine identities.  I use depictions of book collecting to think about how the relationship between past and present is mediated through things and bodily objects and I discuss the alternative histories and genealogies that the individual’s affective investment in books may recover.


Open to all. No registration required.


For further information please visit Things: Comparing Material Cultures 1500-1900 (main page)

Upcoming Events


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk