Skin Deep: Reading Emotion on Early Modern Bodies

Free Public Lecture

Skin Deep: Reading Emotion on Early Modern Bodies

This lecture will explore the ways emotion was understood on the body’s surface and how this was represented both materially and visually in early modern Europe.

Based on traditional medical theories, early modern skin was often described as a ‘fishing net’, something that held the body in place and offered a decorative surface but had no function of its own. At the same time, the body’s surface also told you about its interior wellbeing. Learning to read the body meant both examining the exterior and sampling the interior’s waste products ranging from urine to hair and tears.

This approach was as true of animals as it was of people. Manuals described how to read faces and skin, and argued for and against blushing. You could also predict astrological futures by reading the lines on foreheads as well as on hands (a topic known as chiromancy) and even predict fate according to the number and site of spots and moles. Even more importantly, however, was the ability to combine all these forms of inspections with the ability to diagnose understanding humoural disorders ranging from love-sickness, a form of melancholy, to an excess of blood leading to anger.

All Free Public Lectures