All are invited to join us for this extra Things workshop, at CRASSH, showcasing some of the variety of material cultures work being done by graduate students in different departments at the University of Cambridge. There is no registration fee, but please email the conveners at if you expect to come, so we can make sure there are enough biscuits!

In SG1/2 at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities Alison Richard Building 7 West Road Cambridge CB3 9DT.


Session 1: 2:00-3:30

Irene Cooper (History) Methodologies of material culture. Material culture of religion. (1400-1600)

Eleanor Chan (History of Art) English Cognitive Style, Material and Immaterial: Embroidered and/or Geometric Traces of Post Reformation Visuality

Giulia Galastro (History)  Forbidden Finery: the aims and targets of early modern Genoese sumptuary law

Tea/Coffee 3:30-4:00

Session 2: 4:00-5:30

Natalie Lawrence (History and Philosophy of Science) The ‘Devil of Taiwan’ and the ‘Scaly Lizard’ in colonies and cabinets

Heidi Egginton (History) “A Museum of Furniture”: Collecting Antiques in the West End Department Store, c. 1900-1914

Tess Little (History) La femme tondue revisited: contextualising photography of Liberation France, 1944-45

5:30-5:40 Closing remarks

Abstracts and Bios

Irene (Galandra) Cooper’s PhD is part of an interdisciplinary project called Domestic Devotion – the place of piety in the Italian Renaissance Home, 1400-1600, that brings together the study of books, buildings, objects, spaces, images and archives in order to understand how religion functioned in the Renaissance household. The project starts from the view that religion was a key to the life of ordinary Italians in the period 1400-1600, which far from being one of increased secularization, was instead a period of intense religious revitalization. So far, scholarly attention has focussed on the Italian Renaissance material world starting with the assumption that commodification = secularization, and the project intends to challenge such view.

The ‘domestic devotion’ project aims to study three Italian regions: the inland Veneto, the Marche and Naples and its surroundings. I have chosen to focus on Naples and its surroundings, using the Veneto and the Marche as points of comparison. My research at the moment is just a long list of questions, the most important of these is how to enable unprecedented glimpses into the private lives of Renaissance Neapolitans.

One of the possible ‘way ins’ into the house of the Early Modern Neapolitan is to study the material culture of their devotion, with a particular interest in putting under the microscope the relationship between the material and the spiritual as a more complex and involved relationship than the simple binary opposition sacred and secular. Devotional ornaments, and their misuse, could give an idea of the individual’s beliefs. I am only at the beginning of my research, but I would like to give you an example of the polyvalent role that can be assumed by devotional objects by showing you the visual evidence I gathered so far by focussing on the rosary – as one of the objects that inevitably turns up in many XV and XVI centuries inventories.

Eleanor Chan is a  first year PhD student at the History of Art Department at Cambridge, supervised by Alex Marr; my full project is titled ‘Mathematicized Bodies: Visuality, Cognition and Religion in England and the Netherlands 1570-1660’, and focuses on the relationship between art, natural philosophy and religion in the post-Reformation context.

Abstract: Patrick Collinson’s seminal contention that early modern England suffered from a ‘severe visual anorexia’ has led to a general consensus that, following the Reformation, English society became consciously blind to the powers of the visual. This claim is based overwhelmingly on an assumption that visual aesthesis can only be induced by an image. Two- and three-dimensional representations, sacred and secular, are by no means the only objects which evoke visual appreciation.  The material artefacts of this period, from extant embroidered furnishings to the many texts which continued to make use of the image, silently contradict the concept of ‘visual anorexia’. By acknowledging the sheer variety of objects which can appeal to the eye, my argument recognizes that the question of visual anorexia needs to be divorced from those surrounding the survival of pre-Reformation modes of art and representation. The question, rather, needs to be re-framed in terms of where the pre-Reformation thinking-through-and-with the visual went, in order to assess how far this dearth truly spread.

This paper aims to contribute to the already abundant scholarship in this field by transforming the established question of post-Reformation art into one of visual appreciation and aesthesis, cognitive/sensory perception of the external world, in general. Allowing these various manifestations of reflection upon God into dialogue with one another will provide a valuable discursive space within which to examine the senses not in isolation, but as an entangled, collective mode of experience. Such an investigation will shed light not only upon what became of visuality in this period, but also, crucially, upon the ways in which the English imagined their relationship with God, in the decades following the Elizabethan Settlement.

Giulia Galastro  is in the final year of a PhD in History, supervised by Dr Mary Laven, at the University of Cambridge, where she also completed her MPhil and BA. Her thesis is entitled ‘The Fabric of Early Modern Genoa’. Her research uses a range of sources including guild records, household inventories, and erudite comedies to investigate clothing and textiles in a populous early modern republic which has been much neglected by English-speaking historians. She is particularly interested in the relationship between material culture and gender.

Abstract: Taking legal action to forbid a thing implicitly acknowledges the power of that thing: this is one of the few statements that can be made with certainty about sumptuary law. The importance accorded to the luxury goods – above all clothing – that these prolific laws proscribed was clear, but the motives of the lawmakers are more mysterious. In particular with regards to dress, they seem to have been engaged in a futile game of ‘Fashion Whack-a-Mole’: as soon as one trend was hammered down, another inevitably sprung up in its place. What was the point of it all?

Despite the fact that Genoa boasts one of Europe’s earliest pieces of sumptuary legislation, its laws have attracted only a fraction of the scholarly attention of other Italian locations – yet they have much to add to the debate. This paper seeks to redress this balance, drawing not only on the laws themselves, which are rich in details of the material culture of the time, but also on contemporary literary sources, and on the four years extant Denuncie, records of sumptuary transgressions. Examining the laws in action, we begin to build a spatialised narrative of elite sociability, of forbidden finery being flaunted around the city: gatherings of young men in black velvet embroidered with gold, and women in striped satin gowns on their way to mass, surrounded by servants. A quantitative analysis of the offences presents some surprising conclusions. By contrast to the traditional understanding of women as the main targets of sumptuary legislation, in Genoa there were nearly three times as many men breaking the law on clothing as women. I ask why this might be, and explore wider issues of why controlling luxury goods was vital for civic harmony.

Natalie Lawrence is a second year PhD student at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge. Her thesis explores the characterisation and iconography of exotic animals in early modern natural history.

Abstract: In early modern Europe, exotic and curious animals were in many cases assembled from widely distributed specimens: skins, bones, feathers, scales and other body parts became trade goods shipped to the metropole along with stories and images collected by travellers and traders. The management of the relationship between the representation of these exotic fauna and the movement and presence of such fragile and ambiguous things was crucial in early modern natural history.

A telling example of these complex relations is provided by the Asian pangolin, the first European natural historical description of which was provided by Carolus Clusius in 1605. He gave a detailed account of several skins of the Lacertus Peregrinus squamosus (foreign scaly lizard), but stated that their owners did not know where these skins had come from. Later naturalists in Europe and the East Indies gave descriptions of the Diabolum de Tajoán (Devil of Taiwan) or the Lacertus echinatus (Lizard-hedgehog) based on cabinet specimens or live examples that they had seen themselves. Like the South American armadillos, the scaly-skinned pangolins were transportable and easily preserved, so were prevalent ‘wonders’ in European curiosity cabinets, yet they were not given a distinct identity in early modern European natural history. The pangolin was a spatially dispersed animal with many different places of origin, including Goa, Siam and Ceylon, without being integral to the iconography characterising any one place. It remained a liminal creature, sharing its highly unusual features with lizards, anteaters and armadillos, acting as a conceptual link between reptiles and warm-blooded animals.

Heidi Egginton is a PhD student in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge, working towards a thesis entitled ‘Cultures of Amateur Antique and Curio Collecting in Britain, c. 1868-1939’.

Abstract: At the turn of the twentieth century, a number of large emporia selling household goods in the vicinity of Oxford Street began to expand their stock to include a range of antiques, curios, and old objets d’art. As a means of publicising their own status as serious ‘collectors’, antiques departments within these shops held free exhibitions, created acres of galleries containing model period rooms, and even collaborated with antiquarians and other experts to publish material cultural histories and collecting manuals. Earlier studies have tended to focus on department stores’ use of fine and Oriental art, rather than their extensive collections of bric-à-brac, old English furniture, and antique needlework, and consequently some of the meanings that these ‘authentic’ objects could acquire in the retail environment have been overlooked.

This paper examines a variety of sources written by and about stores including Waring & Gillow, Debenham & Freebody, and Gill & Reigate, and demonstrates that their ‘Antique Galleries’ were by no means arranged solely for the delectation of élite connoisseurs. Instead, the stores various promoters saw that displays of historic furniture and ornaments could provide imaginative and intellectual inspiration to ‘middle class’ antiques enthusiasts of more moderate means, proclaiming themselves on a mission to educate the public in matters of history and design, as well as taste. These West End firms can thus be seen as significant conduits disseminating the pursuit of antiques collecting to a much wider and more socially diverse audience than ever before; in the process they not only responded to, but also helped to shape, contemporary collecting identities.

Tess Little: having graduated with a first-class degree in History from the University of Oxford, she is now reading for an MPhil in Modern European History at the University of Cambridge. Her current research focuses on a case study of the Liberation of Cherbourg in 1944, and seeks to reinsert a study of les femmes tondues into a wider investigation into the punishments of l’épuration sauvage.

Abstract: ‘Femmes tondues’ were French women punished during the Liberation by ritualised head-shaving, for collaboration with the Germans. They comprise a major component of public memory of the Liberation, perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the ubiquity of photographs of the phenomenon. These images frequently appeared in contemporary media. Representation varied depending on the context: through ‘comical’ captions, a local newspaper might ridicule the woman depicted; whereas international publications used the pictures to demonstrate French barbarity. These images are used today, as illustrations for journalistic features and histories. Yet there is little investigation into the subject matter, or the nature of the photographs themselves.

Moreover, while there is already a large body of historiography on les femmes tondues, hitherto the persecution of female collaborators has only been studied in isolation from other punishments of l’épuration sauvage. We must reinsert the ritual into a wider study of the purges. Only through this can we ascertain whether men and women were rounded up separately, whether only the punishment of women became a spectacle, whether the persecution of both genders targeted the same socioeconomic groups, whether each were treated differently by official authorities.

Purges of liberated France are often examined through court records, written accounts, and memoirs; in newspaper coverage of male collaborators, the emphasis was upon the details of their crime. In contrast, contemporary articles on les femmes tondues only portrayed their collaboration visually. These records of the spectacle of the punishment are the only way to fully investigate the phenomenon. Taken by allied troops and journalists, photographs were sent to the allied pool for censorship and are now archived at the Imperial War Museum. Along with newsreel footage, newspapers and gendarmerie reports, these sources form the basis of my research. However, I will also contextualise the photographs in visual culture to explore gendered imagery.