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Miraculous Affects: Inventing Corpses in Baroque Italy

Video streaming by UstreamTalk begins at 4:10 minute mark

 Date: Monday 10 February 2014
Time: 5.30pm
Venue: Napier Building, Level 1, Room 102 The University of Adelaide
Enquiries: Janet Hart, Tel: (08) 8313 2421
Keynote Speaker: Professor Helen Hills (The University of York)

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Abstract: ‘By what awakening is this blood kindled to see again the bitter hours of its torments? By what heat is it rarefied, what virtue makes it move, and from where does it draw such beauty?’

This paper examines the interplay between affect and religion through materiality in order to bring into relation material and spiritual approaches that have too often excluded each other.  Thus in investigating the interplay between emotion and religion in baroque Italy and their material implication, I focus on the miracle and affect and the divergent ways in which they come to matter in art and architecture. At the heart of this paper is the slippery question of the relic. At once the remains of a human, marked by deeds of a saint, and left behind as ‘deposit’ or pledge of the saint now glorified in heaven, relics occupied many registers simultaneously and ambiguously in early modern Europe. They are fertile ground for the scholar interested in emotions and power—divine and mundane – and their material intersection, including their intersection in and implication in material form in art and architecture. I take miracles seriously. Thus the paper seeks to draw into relation matters that may seem to be mutually exclusive: the material and the spiritual. What are the affective requirements each places on the other; how is the material implicated; how are miracles, sacrifice, and sanctity entailed in materiality? Thus how might we reconsider these miracles in relation to affect, ritual and architecture?

My paper takes two contrasting case studies to prise open these complex issues. The first is the miraculously liquefying bloods of St John the Baptist and of San Gennaro (St Januarius) in Naples and affective responses and materializations to them and of them. The second is Stefano Maderno's St Cecilia (1600) in the basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, one of a series of curious sculptures, made partly to celebrate the finding of the relics of saints in 17thC Rome, that stage the body of the saint as dead.  In both cases, I seek to treat the superlative richness of baroque architecture and sculpture as also affectively productive, including productive of new forms of religious authority and civic power in the baroque city.