Colloque : « Indeterminacy in Netherlandish Visual Arts and Culture (1400-1800) », HNA conference, Amsterdam, 2 juin 2022

The art of the Netherlands in the early modern period is full of works whose meaning is not revealed at first glance, or whose interpretations by art historians have revealed all the ambiguity. Just think of Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, Quinten Massys’ Money Changer and his Wife or Johannes Vermeer’s Art of Painting to name only a few famous examples which have been deciphered by scholars in turn from a moralizing, allegorical, spiritual or profane perspective. All the interpretations that have been forged on these works are but one reflection of the way ambiguity is cultivated in all registers of early modern Netherlandish visual culture. Double images, illusionism, visual games, framing devices, plays between different levels of reality, the indeterminacy of pictorial spaces, emblematic and rebus are other key components of this taste for ambivalence.

In this session, we would like to invite papers that will explore early modern Netherlandish visual arts and culture in the light of the concept of “indeterminacy”, understood as “the character of something undefined, unestablished, not precisely outlined” (Dario Gamboni, Potential Images. Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art, 2002, 13), and its variations of ambiguity (the character of what is open to several interpretations) and ambivalence (the character of what has two opposing components). These concepts can be applied to different, yet intimately related, registers:

  • that of the images themselves and their internal functioning: i.e. their iconography, composition, formal language which can be read in different ways);

  • that of the experience and use of images at the time of their reception: how do we define and understand the relationship between these images and their producers, patrons and beholders, depending notably on where and how they were gazed and used (private or public spaces, in an intimate or distant relation…)?;
  • and finally that of the interpretative layers that have been superimposed up to the present day by art historians: it is sufficient to think of the many debates that the paintings mentioned above have provoked in the course of time.

Considering artworks through the prism of indeterminacy will enable us to unlock the potentialities of images without confining them to single interpretations or compartmentalize them in specific genres, that are side-effect of traditional iconographical approach. Instead, it will allow us to grasp the polysemy and richness of the images. On a more general level, this approach will also allow to reconsider the relationships between form and meaning, but also between genres or between the profane and the sacred, and therefore invite us to consider the process of indeterminacy as a participant in the power of artworks.

SESSION 1: “Pensive Images”

SESSION CHAIR : Ralph Dekoninck
RESPONDENT : Reindert Falkenburg, NYU Abu Dhabi


Bret Rothstein, Indiana University
“You Can’t Bluff Someone Who’s Not Paying Attention”

Lisa Pincus, Rhode Island School of Design
Willing indeterminacy: Representation as Meaning in Carel Fabritius’s The Sentry

Mateusz Kapustka, University of Zurich
Stilled Lives. Portraying the Genre in Cornelis Bisschop’s Interior with Jacket on a Chair of c. 1660

SESSION 2 : “Ambiguous Images”

SESSION CHAIR : Ingrid Falque
RESPONDENT : Michel Weemans, ENSA Bourges


Alice Blow, University of Cambridge
Androgyny and Ambiguous Portraiture in the Renaissance: A Triple Profile Portrait, c. 1570

Lieke Smits, Leiden University
Playing with Meaning: Fluid Encounters in Games of Make-Believe

Alexander Marr, University of Cambridge
Landscape, Anthropomorphism and the Erotics of Ambiguity in Niklaus Manuel and Urs Graf


Session organizers:
GEMCA – Group for Early Modern Cultural Analysis, UCLouvain
Ralph Dekoninck
Ingrid Falque
Caroline Heering

Thursday 2 June, Amsterdam
Roeterseiland Campus, A-building


Citer ce billet
Juliette Brack (2022, 12 mai). Colloque : « Indeterminacy in Netherlandish Visual Arts and Culture (1400-1800) », HNA conference, Amsterdam, 2 juin 2022. Collectif d'Historiens de l'Art de la Renaissance. Consulté le 14 juin 2024, à l’adresse

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