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  • Others and Outcasts in Early Modern Europe: Picturing the Social Margins
  • Lisa Ford
Thomas R. Nichols , ed. Others and Outcasts in Early Modern Europe: Picturing the Social Margins.Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007. xvi + 272 pp. index. illus. bibl. $99.95.ISBN: 978–0–7546–5557–2.

The claim on the first page of this volume, that 1500–1800 was a key period "for the visual representation of marginal and outcast people" (1), was intriguing to one accustomed to envisioning early modern spaces dominated by portraits of the great and good in their robes, ribbons, and jewelry. The stated purpose of the book, to integrate the visual record into the historical one already convincingly aired elsewhere, is both admirable and necessary, as visual culture becomes increasingly part of the modern academic conversation.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first, focused on sixteenth-century Northern art, Debra Higgins Strickland interprets the marginal figures in a Bosch epiphany as presenting a melancholy rather than joyful message, with the Antichrist, the ultimate outsider, figuring strongly as a focal point; Bosch serves also as an entry point for Tom Nichols' s essay on the false beggar, and the development of the iconography of the idle poor as both warning and rebuke to humankind. The next three essays move to Italy, beginning with Philip Cottrell' s examination of sixteenth-century Venetian images of plague victims and lepers, which develop an iconography combining the diseased and the vagrant with the figures of Saint Roch and Saint Lazarus. Cottrell highlights the irony of their continual representation at a time when the state was attempting to remove them from sight. By contrast, as Peter Higginson explains, in the Rome of Clement VIII the poor became visual symbols of papal piety, figuring in the new decoration of St. Peter' s and in papal processions in which they became part of a performance emphasizing Clement' s care for them, realistic or not. Livio Pestelli examines a familiar trope, but from the sixteenth-century view, that of the belief in the fradulent invalid who begs as an escape from a working life into the ease of living off of gullible others. The five remaining essays focus on representations of select categories of outsiders: John Gash builds his examination of toothpullers round a series of paintings, including a possible Carvaggio, and their depiction as providing both "suffering—and entertainment" (151), often overlaid with chicanery; Helen Langdon examines seventeenth-century depictions of Diogenes and Democritus, the revered philosophers, as symbols of the period' s glorification of the wise beggar; rejecting the shackles of courtly life, and Carmen Fracchia' s essay shows the range of depictions of black slaves in seventeenth-century Spain, from the lowly hand-maiden in a Velazquez painting to the self-portrait in a work painted by Velazquez' s "mixed-race slave" Juan de Pareja (191). M. A. Katritzky attempts to reframe Franz Hals' s images as those of traveling English actors in famous roles, elevating them from stock images to actual visual records of individual players. Finally, Sean Shesgreen focuses on five sets of Cries, the well-known "pictorial inventories of urban street traders" (215), which claimed to be "done after the life" (218), while highlighting Paul Sandby' s Cries' interior claims to greater veracity than those of his competitors. [End Page 960]

Themes that underpin the early essays include the hardening of efforts to distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor —and methods of dealing with both while removing them from the landscape —as well as the divide between those who depict the poor and disabled as genuinely deserving of charity, and those who cynically presume the greater portion of them to be fakers. Vagabonds are also a common theme, as they form a major percentage of the others and outcasts, whether fraudulent pilgrims, shiftless drifters who traveled from town to town faking disabilities, lepers moving from place to place, unwelcome in any, or actors in traveling troupes.

This volume offers an intriguing variety of commentary on visual depictions of the outsider, in essays that provide sufficient historical context for a reader with a minimal amount of knowledge to benefit from the subject...


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pp. 960-961
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Archived 2009
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