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Objects, Affects and Effects in Early Modern Culture, 1450-1750

This project will engage with the agentive qualities of matter; it will show how affective

dimensions in history connect with material history; and it will explore the religious

and cultural identities dimensions of the use of objects and materials.

Our focus on materials and their relation to values and affects means working through a series of research questions, which will benefit especially from interdisciplinary collaboration. We work from the premise that subjectivities in this period emerged in relation to an ever-increasing object world. Artefacts embodied and produced values, they reflected and shaped emotional desires as well as bodily sensations. As historians and art historians have begun to show, artists and other creators and makers in the late medieval and early modern periods often played with, used and interrogated materiality. They were open to experiencing the qualities and histories of matter not in metaphorical terms but as potential carriers of sentient feeling.


This dialogue with matter vigorously continued in the Reformation and confessional age. These redefined the spiritual status of matter rather than obliterating it, and we need to gain a much better understanding of how this was so. Almost everyone in late medieval and early modern society in some way lived from or experimented with transforming matter, through their labour, interests or quotidian practices. At the same time many of these societies were involved in a continuous struggle with materiality and its threats to societal order. A long-lasting conflict between tradition and fashion grew from these tensions, a conflict that remained unresolved throughout the Early Modern period. A crucial aspect of these insights is therefore that art and craft in this period was no frozen ‘tradition’ or just the realm of specific experts – the early modern period was a made world and a world in the making.


A fragile animal material, feathers in dress are thereby easily forgotten. The spectacular sixteenth-century rise of feathers as dress accessories stood out for its sensuous appeal through lightness, softness and either stunning natural colour or its ability to easily absorb dye.

In 1500, few men and women except mercenary soldiers would ever have worn feathers. One hundred years later, feathers had become indispensable to achieve the “gallant” look.


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Thanks to its ability to take on multiple forms and reveal its artifice and potential in both solid and liquid states gold is an ‘entangled’ matter that, in the early modern period, was combined with a whole range of objects, artefacts and materials.


Omnipresent and ephemeral at the same time, veils and veiling lay at the intersection of various cultural and societal tensions affecting moral concerns. They are an ideal research object through which to inquire about codes of social and moral distinctions. Moreover, veils assume an important place in the period’s artistic production.

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