Patricia Simons and Bret Rothstein | Newberry

Patricia Simons and Bret Rothstein

Patricia Simons

Patricia Simons

Bret Rothstein

Bret Rothstein

Friday, November 4, 2016

2 to 5 pm

Free and open to the public; precirculated papers
Center for Renaissance Studies Programs
Seminar in European Art

“Illustration” as Truth: The Woodcuts in Guazzo’s Compendium Maleficarum (Milan, 1608)

Patricia Simons, University of Michigan

Guazzo’s treatise has received remarkably little scholarly attention, and its twenty-two woodcuts even less, but they offer the opportunity to investigate the relationship between fact and fiction, fantasy and belief. The book claims to arm readers with proof and truth as remedies against evil. This paper examines the emotive appeal of the exempla-like illustrations on the one hand, and the counter-claim to factual accuracy on the other. Ultimately, the paradoxical relationship between fantasy and reality is not only central to all witchcraft imagery but also to the creative enterprise and impact of figurative art.

The Best Way to Misinterpret Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Bret Rothstein, Indiana University Bloomington

What was the place of error in the social order around Netherlandish pictures in the middle of the sixteenth century? This question is especially pressing with respect to two pictures that are, for want of a better term, diffuse with respect both to composition and to narrative or emblematic content: the Netherlandish Proverbs and the Children’s Games. Striving to de-emphasize visual information, Bruegel arranged these compositions so as to defy the establishment of any definitive interpretation. Scholars have long recognized the opportunities for virtuoso performance that such defiance provided, specifically in its requirement that one continually make and remake meaning before a given image. However, Bruegel’s robust pursuit of de-emphasis did more than just enable a multiplicity of responses. It also increased the likelihood, and thus the importance, of misinterpretation. Not all kinds of error were created equal, of course. Some required forceful responses, even active suppression. Others, however, came in for praise from figures such as Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More. Professor Rothstein will explore how the latter sorts of error contributed to deeply social and exploratory kinds of viewing.

Seminar coordinators: Diane Dillon, The Newberry Library; Walter Melion, Emory University; and Suzanne Karr Schmidt, Art Institute of Chicago. Sponsored by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Cost and Registration Information 

This scholarly program is free and open to all. The format is not a lecture, but discussion of precirculated papers. To request a copy of the papers, please email Mary N. Kennedy at