Uncovering the emotional power of art and objects at UoM

What can we learn about complex human emotions from the art and objects of the past? A fascinating conference at The University of Melbourne this week will attempt to find out.

From a 300-year-old bed sheet to an 18th century tobacco tin, objects can be imbued with far wider meanings than their often mundane forms indicate, says Professor Charles Zika, Chief Investigator with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

“Objects can have different meanings at different periods in history, and the emotional response to such objects and artworks can change over time too,” he said.

Renowned international academics will join Professor Zika and other scholars from The University of Melbourne to examine the emotional significance of domestic, religious and cultural objects and paintings at the Art, Objects and Emotions 1400-1800 collaboratory from November 15 to 16.

“From the 15th century, objects and artworks of all kinds circulated widely and began to be systematically collected and displayed,” Professor Zika said. “This certainly impacted on the ways we humans related to those objects.”

“From Rembrandt’s raw and violent Lucretia painting of 1666 to a simple wax candle used for religious rites, objects can generate strong emotions, including desire and violence, pride, belonging, devotion and disgust.”

Dr Lisa Beaven from The University of Melbourne will explore the vogue for paintings of pain and suffering, a theme further explored by Professor Shelley Perlove from The University of Michigan-Dearborn and Professor Elina Gertsman from Case Western Reserve University.

Dr Angela McShane from The Victoria & Albert Museum in London will examine the complex social meanings and rituals around early modern tobacco boxes, while Dr Sasha Handley from The University of Manchester will explain how a domestic English bedsheet became an object of personal, spiritual and artistic veneration.

The collaboratory will be held at the Woodward Conference Centre, 10th floor, Melbourne Law Building, 185 Pelham Street, Carlton. Bookings essential – see link here.

Media contact: Emma Miller, emma.miller@unimelb.edu.au; tel 0401 642 535