Three Renaissance Grotesques: Holbein, Dürer, Massys

As part of a Workshop on the Grotesque at Magdalen College, there will be a Public Lecture by Professor Alexander Marr (University of Cambridge) 27 September 2023, 5pm to 6pm. Free entry Magdalen College, Grove Auditorium (entry via Longwall Street). All welcome.

The Renaissance grotesque is normally thought of as an ornamental art of the margins: fantastical rather than natural, supplementary instead of central. But what if we were to approach a core subject in the rise of naturalism, the Northern Renaissance portrait, on grotesque terms? This lecture will re-assess three well-known portraits—Hans Holbein the Younger’s Derich Born, Albrecht Dürer’s St Jerome in his Study, and Quinten Massys’s so- called Ugly Duchess—in relation to some key topoi of the grotesque: hybridity, monstrosity, play, and the excesses of fecund imagination. It will suggest that the enterprise of portraiture is (and was) better understood as a facetious game than a mimetic triumph.

Alexander Marr is Professor of Renaissance and Early Modern Art at the University of Cambridge. He specializes in German, Netherlandish, Italian, French and British art ca. 1450- ca. 1800, especially its intellectual and literary aspects in their social contexts. Before coming to Cambridge, he taught at the University of Southern California and the University of St Andrews. From 2014 to 2019 he was Director of the project Genius before Romanticism: Ingenuity in Early Modern Art & Science, funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant (€1.8 million). His awards include a Paul Mellon Centre Senior Fellowship, the Robert H. Smith Residency at the V&A, and a Philip Leverhulme Prize. He was the founding Director of Cambridge’s Centre for Visual Culture and has directed research projects at CRASSH, the DAAD- Cambridge Hub for German Studies, and the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute. Marr is Fellow and Dean of Discipline at Trinity Hall, and Director of Studies there and at Clare College. He is the President of the Leonardo da Vinci Society: a learned society dedicated to the study of art and science from the Renaissance to the present day.


Full Programme (registration needed for anything but the public lecture)


Sophia Shephard Room, Magdalen College

9:00-9:30: Welcome and housekeeping

9:30-11:00: Italian session, chaired by Martin Clayton (Royal Collections Trust, Windsor)

9:30-9:50: What’s so Grotesque About Amor? An Investigation into the (Dis-)Continuity of Classical Forms – Dr Rebecca Bowen (MML Faculty, Oxford)

9:50-10:10: Tracing the Grotesque in Italian “Popular” Prints – Anya Perse (Lincoln College, Oxford) 

10:10-10:30: Engraving, Sculpture, and the Contested Legacy of Horace: The Antipoetic Art of Renaissance Grotesques – Dr Raymond Carlson (Yale University Art Gallery)

10:30-11:00: Discussion

11:00-11:30: coffee break

11:30-12:30: German session, chaired by Raymond Carlson (Yale University Art Gallery)

11:30-11:50: Monk-Calf & Pope-Donkey: Grotesque Monsters in Reformation Polemics – Prof Henrike Lähnemann (St Edmund Hall and MML Faculty, Oxford)

11:50: 12:10: The Grotesque Mathematics of Dürer’s Victoria – Dr Elizabeth Petcu (Department of History of Art, University of Edinburgh)

12:10-12:30: Discussion 

12:30-13:30: Buffet lunch and coffee

14:30-16:00: Discussion of selected prints and objects with Caroline Palmer

(Print room at the Ashmolean Museum)

Reformation prints and pamphlets from the Early Modern Monsters exhibition with Emma Huber and Henrike Lähnemann (The Taylorian Institution Library, Voltaire Room)

16:30-17:00: coffee and tea available Grove auditorium anteroom, Magdalen College

17:00-18:00: Three Renaissance Grotesques: Holbein, Dürer, Massys, a public lecture by Prof Alexander Marr (Trinity Hall and Faculty of History of Art, Cambridge) Grove Auditorium, Magdalen College

THURSDAY 28TH OF SEPTEMBER Sophia Shephard room, Magdalen college

11:00-11:30: coffee 

11:30-13:00: French session

11:30-11:50: Le grotesque au seuil du livre imprimé: à propos de quelques pages de titres gravées /The Grotesque on the printed book’s threshold: on some engraved title-pages – Prof Estelle Leutrat (Faculté d’histoire de l’art, université de Poitiers)

11:50-12:20: Margins Without Center: Montaigne’s Essays and the Radical Grotesque – Prof Chad Córdova (Department of French and Italian, Emory University)

12:20-12:40: Groignet, the slashing tailor. Rabelais’s historiographical grotesque against Raphaël’s Vatican Stanze – Dr Raphaële Garrod (Magdalen College and MML Faculty, Oxford)

12:40-13:00: Discussion 

13:00-14:00: buffet lunch and coffee

14:00-15:00: English session chaired by Raphaële Garrod (Magdalen College and MML Faculty, Oxford)

14:00-14:20: Inside the grotesque: Building Christ’s figure in early modern preaching – Paul Norris (Brasenose College, Oxford)

14:20-14:40: Memorialising the Grotesque: A Pie and a Baby (on the staging of Titus Andronicus)– Dr Sophie Duncan (Magdalen College, Oxford)

14:40-15: 00: Discussion 

15:00-16:00: Exhibition and discussion of selected volumes Magdalen College Old Library

16:00-17:00: farewell tea, coffee and cakes Sophia Shephard room, Magdalen College

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