Since the 1970s, several historical studies have been dedicated to the topic of poverty in early modern Europe; among them one could mention those of historians Jean-Pierre Gutton, Arlette Farge, Olwen H. Hufton, Alain Corbin, Jacques Carré, A. Th. Van Deursen, Ole Peter Grell and Andrew Cunningham. Begging, criminality, and minor trades and crafts in urban context, or else rural life and vagrancy, are among the issues addressed by these historical publications over the last decades. Likewise, literary studies – particularly on the eighteenth-century – are also very familiar with poverty and human misery as topoi of early modern writings. However, the poverty and its early modern visual representations is a topic which has yet to be fully explored in history of art. The works of art historians and visual culture scholars, such as John Barrell, Patricia Fumerton, Tom Nichols or Ann M. Scott, have highlighted the importance of the corpus and the variety of media – engraving, painting and popular illustrations etc. – involved in the production of images of the lower classes in both early modern British and Dutch art. Following the renewed interest in the Caravesques, Spain and Italy have also received considerable scholarly attention – but French representations of poverty, aside from Greuze's work, less so. Starting from the observation that most works on the representation of poverty and misery have mainly dealt with the consequences of the Industrial Revolution in occidental Europe – rural exodus, urbanisation, proletariat, social class struggle –, this symposium will instead focus on the development and peculiarities of this specific iconography from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment.

Co-organised by the departments of history of art of the Universities of Lausanne and Geneva, this two-day conference aims to further the debate initiated by the researchers and studies aforementioned by shedding light on and forging new connections between a diversity of sources and visual corpuses. Indeed, this topic has been hitherto mainly associated with genre painting, however recent studies on history painting, portrait, and landscape painting – especially in the field of graphics arts – have demonstrated that poverty, as subject of representation, transcends the boundaries of artistic genres. As a result, another objective of this conference will be to evaluate the impact of this particular visual production and to analyse its iconographies and significations. The goal will also be to emphasise the stakes, the discourses and the variety of its applications – comical, satirical, sentimental, economical, religious or political, etc. – during the Early Modern period.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Representation of urban or rural poverty (beggars, vagabonds, etc.)
  • Poverty and migration 
  • Representations of Christian, state or royal charity
  • Poverty and its virtues (humility, innocence, etc.) 
  • Poverty, crime and misdemeanour 
  • Images of poverty as artistic genres (bambochades, tavern scenes, etc.)
  • Figure or portrait of the poor (person) 
  • Poverty and minor trades and crafts (peasants, hawkers, etc.) 
  • Poverty and illness
  • Poverty and laughter/comedy/irony
  • Poverty and politics (riots, revolutions, etc.) 
  • Poverty between art and literature ; or poverty between art and theatre.

We welcome any proposals – in French or English – from a wide range of disciplines for 25-minute papers related but not limited to the list of topics above. The conference primarily focuses on Early Modern Europe. Proposals will not exceed 300 words and will be accompanied by a short biographical note. They should be sent by 10 april 2019 to both [email protected] and [email protected]