The Early Modern Social Theory of Visual Signs (Discussing Magnificence)

Antonio Urquízar-Herrera (UNED, Madrid)

Why did Early Modern European noble families maintain objects within the estate for generations and even centuries? Did these objects receive similar interpretations in the 15th-Century and in the 19th-, 20th– and 21st-Centuries? How did Early Modern authors support the interpretation of images and objects as sources of genealogical memory and “visual signs of nobility”?

The deployment of new research questions and the use of new sources can produce a better understanding of the Early Modern social reading of images and objects in the court environment. This approach could challenge the recurrent use of the concept of magnificence as a historiographical cliché.

This research project aims at retrieving the humanist discussion of the limits of magnificence through considering the reception of the classical narrative of spolia, through understanding the place of cross-cultural objects and images in noble palaces, as well as through considering the value of visual signs in the context of the Early Modern discourses of lineage, social mobility, and cultural legitimacy.