Researcher: Hanneke van Asperen

From the fifteenth-century onwards historic disasters were depicted more and more frequently. Painted in the 1490s, the panels of St Elizabeth Flood in Rijksmuseum are an early and often-mentioned example. In addition, printed imagery was crucial in spreading representations of disasters. Woodcuts, etchings, and engravings (and later also lithographies) were powerful media which did not only offer information about catastrophes, but also interpretations. It has, for instance, been established that witchcraft was popularly connected with disasters; images of witchcraft, for example those by Pieter Bruegel, include storms and floods.

The postdoc of the project will focus on different types of disasters, i.e. floods, fires, epidemics, and storms, and will investigate the function of images throughout an extended period. How did  images contribute to the construction and interpretation of disasters? What was the function of different images? Viewers were meant to engage with these pictures which often aimed to evoke emotions. How did artists stimulate an affective response in their audience? Finally, the project will establish continuities and changes in the visual representation of disasters tracing recurrent themes and tropes. Establishing these patterns will be key to understanding how processes of canonisation operate.

The postdoc will primarily make use of open access collections of paintings and prints, such as the database of the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), Atlas van Stolk (Rotterdam), Geheugen van Nederland, Kik-Irpa (Brussels), and digital museum collections and image archives. In addition, illuminated chronicles, local archives, and illustrated periodicals are searched to enrich the variety of sources.

The Saint Elisabeth’s flood (1421) as seen by a 18th century painter