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Research Colloquium: The Overwhelming Power of Texts, Images, Architecture & Spectacle in the Early Modern Period


Admission requirements

ResMA student


This colloquium will concentrate on how early modern rulers used overwhelming representations to enforce their power. By reading a poem, looking at a painting or sculpture, standing in front of a building or walking through that building or attending a theatre performance, ritual, speech, sermon or spectacular show, beholders were stimulated to feel so amazed that a clear view of the actual situation was lost. Thinking to be confronted with real persons in stead of personages, the beholders became eyewitnesses and did no longer consider the representional aspect of what they were beholding.

These living presences could be so cruel that the beholders were totally devastated by horror, for example in Senecan tragedy and its love for bloodshed and atrocity. Thus the beholder was urged to recognize the importance of the central power as a defence against shattering chaos. However, subjects were also persuaded by exposing them to elevated emotions. An impressive building, e.g. the Amsterdam town hall by Jacob van Campen or the Dôme des Invalides by Hardouin-Mansart, was supposed to lead to heavenly enjoyment which reflected on its founders, the city governments or monarchs.

Whether by horror or delight, representations were used to overwhelm the onlookers. This can often be related to a political agenda. Using overwhelming feelings to persuade is of all times, but in the early modern period it is thoroughly theorised. We will try to get an insight in what early modern writers and artists thought about this political use of art and how they tried to urge the onlooker to get overwhelmed. Therefore we will look at the models they used – e.g. ps.-Longinus’ sublime or Senecan cruelties -, as well as the way these models were appropriated.

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 tutors 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 10 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). [workload written paper: 30 hours].


See the website of Arts and Culture (research)

Mode of instruction

Seminar & Research

Course Load

7 × 2 hours classes = 14
Two days of presentations = 16 hours
Preparing and reading written paper = 110 hours

Assessment method

Presentation: 20%
Abstract: 15%
Abstract and Paper: 65%



Reading list

See Blackboard


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable