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Research Colloquium: Metapictures and Mise-en-abyme


Admission requirements

ResMA student


In theoretical reflections on art and literature one can come across terms such as ‘mise-en-abyme’ or metapictures/metanarratives. How should we define these terms and what insights do these concepts provide in how works of art and literature communicate? William J.T. Mitchell defines a metapicture in his Picture Theory (1994) as a picture that is about itself and explains how it works as a picture. Mitchell discusses metapictures from three perspectives: the producer, the production, and the product. However, he does not theorize the metapicture concept as profoundly as Victor I. Stoichita did one year earlier in his book The Self-Aware Image. An Insight into Early Modern Meta-Painting (1993).
One century earlier, in 1893, the concept ‘mise-en-abyme’ was used for the first time for various art forms by the French novelist André Gide. In heraldry the term was used to refer to the repetition of a smaller version of a shield in the middle of it. Gide applied the phrase en-abyme to tell the reader in a text what a text is. Later on (according to Craig Owens, 1978), in the vocabulary of literary criticism, the phrase en abyme was applied to describe any fragment of a text that reproduces in miniature the structure of the text in its entirety or even to define any internal mirror reflecting the totality of work that contains it.
This colloquium mainly focuses on self-reflection with regard to the medium used to communicate the contents of an artwork. Each participant may choose the medium of study (e.g. painting, sculpture, installation art, photography, video, cinema or literature).

Course objectives

This research seminar will model as completely as possible the process of researching, writing and presenting a scholarly paper at a conference. In preparation, students are asked to study a reading list, which will offer a preliminary theoretical framework. After an introductory lecture by the tutor of the colloquium the students will decide what topic to pursue in their own contribution. For the next two meetings the students are asked to prepare a brief preliminary report on their research activities, of 15 minutes each. Please provide a hand-out with full bibliography, and an abstract of 100 words for the presentation [workload preliminary phase: 80 hours].
Finally there will be an academic conference during two full days consisting of student presentations and discussions. During these days all aspects of professional presentation and competence will be discussed: abstract, hand-out, content of presentation, presentation as such, first reaction by student-respondent, level of the discussion, quality and intensity of participation, handling of questions by presenter [workload oral presentation: 30 hours].
After the colloquium, students will write a short discussion paper (5000 words, including notes and bibliography). The deadline for submission is mid June 2012. [workload written paper: 30 hours].


See the website of Literary Studies (research) and Arts and Culture (research)

Mode of instruction

Seminar, Research

Assessment method

Active participation and preparation: 15%
Oral presentation: 25%
Written paper: 60%



Reading list

  • some texts via Blackboard

  • Victor I. Stoichita, The Self-Aware Image. An Insight into Early Modern Meta-Painting (1993)

  • Individual reading lists


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. H. Westgeest