Third annual INQUIRE conference on Inquisitions, Iconography, and Memory

Conference report: Third annual INQUIRE conference on Inquisitions, Iconography, and Memory

Centre for the History of Society and Culture - University of Coimbra, Portugal; Inquire - International Centre for Research on Inquisitions - University of Bologna, Italy; Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte, Mainz
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
17.11.2023 - 18.11.2023
Nicole Reinhardt, Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte, Mainz

After INQUIRE’s first conference in 2021 was dedicated to establishing current trends in the historiography of the Inquisition1 and the second in 2022 focused on the financial dimensions of the tribunals’ activities, the encounter in 2023 touched on the entwinement of Iconography and Memory. The conference contributions by historians and art historians from universities in Portugal, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, and France examined the role of visual and material sources for inquisition history in a chronologically broad scope from medieval to modern times. As the conference organizers JOSE PEDRO PAIVA (Coimbra) and VINCENZO LAVENIA (Bologna) highlighted in their introductions, these aspects have not yet been systematically explored. Indeed, a tension exists between the relative scarcity of images produced by the inquisitorial institutions and the vivid imagery associated with their activities that decisively shapes historical memory to this day. In light of this paradox, the conference sought to draw attention both to the yet untapped potential of visual sources for a renewed understanding of inquisition history and to the continuous re-emergence of forgotten, misplaced or damaged visual and material sources that still await historical analysis. The conference contributions hence covered a wide range of new questions, such as the significance of visual material for the diffusion of inquisitorial knowledge, the role of images and artefacts for the functioning of the Holy Office and its victims, and, not least, the ways in which the creation and destruction of inquisition imagery are integral to the institution’s discursive power and legacy.

Four contributions explored medieval aspects: MARIA ALESSANDRA BILOTTA (Lisboa) presented a large interdisciplinary project in which art historians and legal scholars cooperate to identify and catalogue illuminations in medieval legal manuscripts across Portugal. The project raised fascinating inquiries into the delimitation of the corpus but also regarding the European circulation of artists, scholars as well as legal and political concepts, as evidenced by the growing number of illuminations depicting orderly trial situations to signify good government. ALESSIA TRIVELLONE (Montpellier) delivered a fine-grained examination of the layers of construction of the ‘heretic’ in Bernard Gui’s Practica for inquisitors. She revealed a regime of historicity in which the perception of heretics of the present, both in texts and in images, operated in analogy with past types. KATERINA HORNIČKOVÁ’s (Olomouc) contribution highlighted the ambiguity of the iconography used to represent the Hussite and Utraquist movements, which centred mostly on Jan Hus and his trial and execution in particular. While images of these crucial moments proved the heretical nature of his teachings to opponents, these scenes were evidence of his martyrdom and saintliness to followers, who in various shades were in the majority in Bohemia for over a century. Repeated bans targeting images of Hus notwithstanding, their very ambiguity und ubiquity ultimately supported their survival well into the 1620s. Only the onset of radical re-catholicization campaigns following the political reversal after the battle of White Mountain resulted in the systematic eradication and destruction of Hus imagery. FRANCK MERCIER (Rennes) concluded the medieval papers with an examination of the emergence of flying witches illustrating manuscripts in fifteenth-century Arras. While it is not always clear whether texts and images were created contemporaneously, the images were clearly gendered, with the riding on a broom-stick reserved to women, while male bodies were carried in flight by devils.

Moving on to the early modern period, a set of contributions explored imagery, metaphors, and objects related to the Iberian inquisitions. GIUSEPPE MARCOCCI (Oxford) questioned how material objects buried in the files of inquisitorial archives and which have not yet been systematically apprehended, can provide new insights into their dynamic use and perception by historical actors. Based on a microhistorical analysis of a trial record from Mexico City whose files contain a makeshift, miniature Sanbenito accompanied by defaming poetry, he suggested to move away from the widespread concern with consumption amongst material historians. In contrast, he developed perspectives on ‘negative’ materiality that centre on the objects’ purposes for slander and denunciation. ANA-ISABEL LÓPEZ-SALAZAR CODES (Madrid) turned to literary tropes evoking inquisitorial settings and attitudes which pervade Cervantes’s Don Quixote, often to comic and ironic, and – one is tempted to say – desacralizing effect. It is therefore surprising that none of the relevant passages ever raised suspicions amongst Spanish inquisitors as to the author’s orthodoxy. These circumstances point not only to the relatively lenient censorship of literary texts by the Spanish Inquisition in comparison to Portuguese and Papal tribunals, but also to the danger of anachronistic misreadings of Cervantes among modern-day literary critics. Attributing to him proto-enlightened or libertine attitudes severely impedes the understanding of the novel within the communicative and mental fabric of the society in which the author was embedded and in which his colourful evocations of the Holy Office were meaningful. JAIME GOUVEIA (Coimbra) turned to the spreading of iconographies of the vice of ‘lust’ in emblems and their increasing demonization throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The iconography centred on the deviation of human reason by carnal appetites that turned men into half animals. Increasingly, such deformity was attributed to a subjugation of the will by demonic forces, a line of interpretation which also supported the inquisitorial persecution of the crime of ‘sollicitatio’, in which the incriminated priests were the ‘victims’ of lust rather than the perpetrators of sexual crimes. FRANCISCO BETHENCOURT’s (London) contribution highlighted the tensions and ambiguities that emerged in the creation and circulation of visual representations of inquisitorial activities in Iberia and beyond. The iconography available depended on the public visibility of the tribunals which differed substantially between the Iberian inquisitions with their customary public celebrations of Autos da Fé on the one hand, and the Roman/Papal tribunals, which refrained from such public displays, on the other. Hence, the Iberian Auto da Fé, as an event projecting social and political hierarchy as well as the re-establishment of religious order and purity, ended up providing potent visual material whose meaning and interpretation, however, could not be easily controlled. It is likely that the response to such images among contemporary urban viewers, many of whom were ‘new Christians’, was one of compassion and identification with the victims rather than support for the tribunal. Depicting the power of the tribunals of faith over life and death not only delivered a spectacle of fear, it could also inspire pity, or be used by critics to humanise and give a name and face to victims of the Holy Office. The printed lists of the condemned produced by the Portuguese tribunals, for instance, or etchings of the processions of the condemned on the way to the scaffold, could thus become the very material on which confessional opponents established ‘martyrologies’ that were foundational for later liberal historiographies. Understanding what gazing at an image meant for historical actors is a challenging endeavour for the twenty-first-century historian. Obviously, the question of how images were understood and which emotions they triggered did not depend exclusively on artistic intention; it was and is always entangled in complex acts of communication that must include onlookers. As KATHERINE ARON-BELLER (Jerusalem) argued in her comparison between Iberian and Papal tribunals regarding cases of ‘crimes against images’, throughout the late medieval and early modern period, anxieties increased over how Jews and/or ‘New Christians’ might harm and defile Christian images and objects with their gaze or actions. The image, it turned out, was fragile, but exposure to potential harm was located differently depending on the respective contexts. While in Spain ‘New Christians’ suffered allegations of not using proper images or not dealing properly with images in private spaces; in Italy the continued and visible presence of Jewish communities meant that the harm Jews allegedly exerted with their postures, gestures, gaze, or the absence thereof, concerned images and objects in public spaces. The notion of crimes against images and their persecution by the Holy Office, therefore served a double purpose of detecting alleged crypto-Jewish attitudes and delineating the boundaries of the Christian body. But what of the image that inquisitors wanted to project of themselves and their office; and is it even possible to speak of comprehensive visual strategies of the Holy Office? These were the questions addressed by VINCENZO LAVENIA (Bologna) with a focus on the Papal Inquisition in Italy. There is no systematic analysis yet regarding the iconographies displayed in the Franciscan and Dominican monasteries that served as seats of the Holy Office in the localities, nor of the artworks that inquisitors commissioned, the iconographic representations they preferred, or the ways in which they were commemorated and remembered in the different communities. Overall, visual representations in publicly accessible spaces of churches and monasteries, in which the Holy Office operated, seem rare, or are still in need of being properly identified. The Bolognese example, where the inquisitor’s quarters are located within an area inaccessible – then and now – to the wider public, suggests that much is still to be discovered. Indeed, the Bolognese dwellings of the Holy Office were exquisitely decorated with frescoes executed in the eighteenth century that display small portraits of inquisitors in what amounts to a visual prosopography since medieval times. Simultaneously, the insertion of the inquisitors’ portraits clearly transcends the individual and subjects them to a genealogically organized memory palace of the institution. The creation of an iconic moment, i.e. that of the solitary Galileo in prison muttering ‘e pur si muove’, was the focus of MASSIMO BUCCIANTINI (Siena), who followed its use and long-term effect on political discourse in nineteenth-century France and Italy. In France, scenes depicting Galileo in this way proliferated in historical painting contributing substantially to the genius cult typical of the time, in which Galileo was celebrated as an idealtype ‘modern’ scientist. But Galileo’s role here was not limited to that of a founding-father of modern science. The widespread availability of images that showed him taking a stance against the formidable tribunal also turned the iconic scene into a repertoire reference in texts produced by liberals in their fight against Ultramontanism. Jules Michelet and Edgar Quinet in the 1840s regularly evocated and referred to it in their campaigns against religious ‘fanaticism’ and clerical influence on public education, pointing to the danger of France ending up like Italy as ‘a country of silence’ with a ‘dead culture’. Contemporaneous Italian celebrations of Galileo also centred on the scientific genius, yet did not indulge in Galileo as an anti-clerical hero. On the contrary, the Italian cult of Galileo took inspiration from the Catholic veneration of saints, including the creation of a reliquary containing the bones of the scientist’s index finger (!).

Throughout, the conference delivered rich explorations of how attention to the entanglement of images and memory can engage inquisition history in innovative ways over a long chronological arch from the Middle Ages to the present.[2] It also illustrated the European, and inherently transnational, quality of such studies whilst delineating promising lines for further investigation. Future scholars will be particularly grateful for the continuously growing iconographic database on the INQUIRE site to facilitate these endeavours.3

Conference Overview:

Maria Alessandra Bilotta (Lisboa): O estudo das illustrações em manuscritos jurídicos: questões,metodologias e ferramentas

Alessia Trivellone (Montpellier): La construction de l’”image” de l’hérétique dans la Practica de Bernard Gui

Kateřina Horníčková (Olomouc): Different or not different? Iconography of religious movements in the fifteenth-century Bohemia: Hussites, Utraquists and their opponents

Franck Mercier (Rennes): Sur la terre comme au ciel? L’ invention de la sorcière volante dans les manuscrits à peinture de la cour des Bourgogne (c. 1450-c. 1480)

Francisco Bethencourt (London): The Iconography of the Inquisitions

Giuseppe Marcocci (Oxford): Domesticar objetos infamantes: Sobre um sambenito fictício e os arquivos esquecidos da cultura material

Ana Isabel López-Salazar Codes (Madrid): Literatura del Siglo de Oro y imagines inquisitoriales

Jaime Gouveia (Coimbra): Inquisição e demonização da luxúria heresiarca: discursos morais, representações mentais e construções figurativas

Katherine Aron-Beller (Jerusalem): Christian Images and their Jewish Desecrators in Early Modern Inquisitorial Sources

Chiara Franceschini (Munich): Teufelskruzifixe: Faust, Freud e l’Inquisizione

Vincenzo Lavenia (Bologna): Iconography and Memory: Inquisitorial Courtrooms in Early Modern Italy

Massimo Bucciantini (Siena): Su Galileo: iconografia e politica nella Francia e nell’Italia dell’Ottocento

1 Now available in Irene Bueno et al. (eds.), Current Trends in the Historiography of Inquisitions. Themes and Comparisons, Rome 2023.
[2| The concluding contribution leading up to the twentieth century on ‘Teufelskruzifixe: Faust, Freud e l’Inquisizione’ by Chiara FRANCESCHINI (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München) was originally planned to be delivered remotely, but could not go ahead due to a technical failure.
3 (26.02.2024).

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Englisch, Französisch, Portuguese, Spanisch
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