Vossius Center for the History of Humanities and Sciences

Vossius Research Fellow Lieke van Deinsen

1 June 2018

Lieke van Deinsen joins the Vossius Center in June 2018 for two months as a Research Fellow with her project 'Female Faces, Intellectual Identities. Author Portraits and the Shaping of Female Intellectual Authority in Early Modern and Enlightenment Europe, 1650-1800'.

About the project

Over the past few years, numerous European universities replaced (albeit temporarily) the portraits in their maledominated academic portrait galleries with the faces of women of learning. Positioned where universities showcase their most celebrated figureheads, these portraits of female intellectuals deliberately challenge the dominant image of the academic as a man. The complex dynamics between gender and the representation of intellectual authority have, however, long roots in Western European history. In the course of the early modern period, learned women, although not yet affiliated with the academia’s, articulated a growing awareness of their public image and an increased interest in actively modelling it. The aim of this project is to investigate how portraiture became a crucial element in the shaping of the image of female intellectual authority in the Enlightenment. It will do so by analysing attempts on the part of learned women in England, France, Germany and the Low Countries to shape their public image through the use of printed portraits, often incorporated in their publications.

This research project comparatively and computationally analyses portraits of women of learning in the age of Enlightenment as vehicles of public image in the male-dominated intellectual field in order to investigate the historical struggle of women to represent and embody intellectual authority. A significant corpus of female author portraits, including likenesses of Anna Maria van Schurman, Maria Sybilla Merian and Émilie du Châtelet, is brought into dialogue with textual iterations and critical considerations of the depiction of female authority. The complex position of learned women in the public sphere in the early modern era, and the Republic of Letters in particularly, has recently been the focus of increased attention. However, recent historical studies are characterized by a strongly biographical and text-based methodology and overlook a key issue in women writers’ public (self) display: their physical image. How did female intellectuals and their portraits iterate the seeming incompatibility between growing interest in the individual on the one hand and their limited options in the public sphere on the other? Structured by an array of multidisciplinary perspectives, this project is informed by and will contribute to and challenge the boundaries of literary, art, and cultural history, and gender studies, in providing a historical foundation for the still challenging issue of the depiction of female intellectual authority.

Van Deinsen will use her stay at the Vossius Center to model her research plans into a NWO-Veni proposal, to be submitted in January 2019.

About the researcher

Lieke van Deinsen (1987) works at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. She studied Dutch Language & Culture (BA) and Literature & Literary Theory (RMA) and holds a Ph.D. (2017) in early modern literary  and cultural history. In 2015-2016 she was awarded the Johan Huizinga Fellowship (Rijksmuseum) and Elsevier Fellowship (Scaliger Institute Leiden) to conduct research on the production and circulation of author portraits in the Low Countries. Van Deinsen published in several national and international journals. More about her can be found on her website.

Published by  Vossius Center