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Towards a Cultural History of Early Modern Ichthyology (1500-1800)

Thursday 14 October 2021 - Saturday 16 October 2021
Link to Zoom will be sent later by email, upon registration
Frans Syders and Anthony van Dyck, Fish Market, ca. 1621, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Wikimedia Commons

Fish have always been part and parcel of human civilisation. In a material sense, fish was (and is) omnipresent in our everyday life – from fishery to kitchen. At the same time, fish lead a hidden life, underwater, invisible to man. This paradoxical combination of familiarity and unfamiliarity with aquatic life continues to trigger our fascination, which is manifest not only in fish symbolism, both religious and secular, but also in the European imagery of remote worlds from the Nordic seas to the Far East and tropical West, and in the development of science, from early modern natural history to modern marine biology.

This conference aims to provide a broad spectre of manifestations of human fascination with the aquatic fauna, from 1500 to 1800. It addresses the period’s quickly growing knowledge about fish in its multiple and varied interaction with culture – “fish” understood in the early modern sense of the term, as aquatilia: all aquatic animals, including sea mammals, crustaceans and shells. This topic – the interaction between fish knowledge and culture – will be approached from various perspectives: cultural history, history of science, historical ecology, art history, literary studies, history of collections, among others. Attention will be given to the problematic questions of visual representation, standardized description and classification, and intermediality (word and image, manuscript and print). The conference will also address the transmission of ichthyological knowledge between countries in Europe, and between Europe and the other continents.

See programme below. Attendance is free, but please register via this link

Organized with support from LUCAS and NWO


14 October, 12.00-14.30

Florike Egmond & Paul J. Smith: Opening – Introduction

First Session: Visualizing and Describing Fish

Chair: Paul J. Smith

*Florike Egmond (Leiden/Rome), European aquatilia images in print and drawing, c. 1520-1630

*Holger Funk (Paderborn), “True” vs. traditional: How the so-called founding fathers of modern ichthyology transformed fish iconography (ca. 1550)

*Eric Jorink (Leiden University and Huygens ING), In the water, on land and in the air. Johannes Swammerdam (1637-1680) on insects and amphibians

*Robbert Striekwold (Leiden University/Naturalis), Drawing specimens, depicting species: abstraction and standardization in 19th-century ichthyological images

14 October, 16.00-18.00

Second Session : Collecting Aquatilia

Chair: Eric Jorink

*Myriam Marrache-Gouraud (Université de Poitiers), Floating categories: fish classifications in Early Modern European curiosity cabinets

*Isabelle Charmantier (London, Linnean Society), Alexander Garden and Carolus Linnaeus’ pressed fish collection

*Dorothee Fischer (Universität Trier), Fish far from sea: collecting maritime animals in 18th-century Germany

*Sophia Hendrikx (Leiden University) & Robbert Striekwold (Leiden University/Naturalis), Linking up the chain of being: exotic fishes and other creatures in the 18th century collection of Johannes Albertus Schlosser

15 October, 12.00-14.00

Third Session: Painting Fish – Questions of Natural History

Chair: Isabelle Charmantier

*Marlise Rijks (Universiteit Gent), Paintings of aquatic animals in the Low Countries (1560-1729)

*Anne Overduin (Leiden, Naturalis), Fishing in the past: A Zooniverse-project

*Philippe Glardon(Université de Lausanne)Les premiers traités d’histoire naturelle ‘ichthyologiques’ du XVIe siècle : questionnements formels et structurels [paper in French]

*Johannes Müller (Leiden University), Precarious provenance. Global geography and the question of fish distribution in eighteenth-century ichthyology

15 October, 16.00-18.00

Fourth Session: Transmission of Knowledge and Objects between Europe and the Far East

Chair: Marlise Rijks

*Melinda Susanto (Leiden University), The travelling Nautilus

*Ching-Ling Wang (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), On a newly discovered sea fish album (Haiyu tu, 1736) and the formation of knowledge in eighteenth-century China

*Doreen Müller (Leiden University), Whales in the cultural imagination in early modern Japan

*Martien van Oijen (Leiden, Naturalis), Early "Dutch" contributions to Japanese ichthyology (1690-1877)

16 October, 15.00-17.30

Fifth Session: Literary, Culinary and Other Encounters

Chair: Florike Egmond

*Tobias Bulang (Universität Heidelberg), The many names of fish. Scientific and poetic fish-nomenclature in the writings of Johann Fischart and Conrad Gesner

*Maria Conforti (Sapienza Università di Roma), Eating fishes : seafood beyond the Mediterranean

*Rob Lenders (Radboud University, Nijmegen), The myth of the salmon and the servant in early modern Europe

*Cristina Brito (Universidade Nova de Lisboa), ‘Um Grande Peixe, Dona Baleia da Costa’: The whale in early modern Portuguese natural history

Florike Egmond & Paul J. Smith: Concluding Remarks


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