The Politics of Form in Early Modern Europe

deadline for submissions: 
September 15, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Université Paris-Est Créteil / Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3

Call for Papers



June 27-28, 2019

Université Paris-Est Créteil / Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3


Many early modern literary and artistic works were produced for specific social and political events which inflected their form and content. Attention to contexts of production and performance is essential for understanding these works, which, nevertheless, also arose out of formal and aesthetic decisions. Any courtly activity necessarily had political implications, right down to the most intimate actions — such as the public celebration of the wedding night for some royal couples. Courtiers and rulers indulged in a number of artistic pursuits to which they brought their own agendas. Examples include Louis XIV’s participation in French court ballets, lavish masques at the English courts of James I and Charles I, and Castiglione’s emphasis, in Il Cortegiano, on poetry, music and dance as indispensable skills for a gentleman. The lives of courtier poets, musicians and dancers thus differed greatly from the images of bohemian artists, unrecognized geniuses and poètes maudits devised by the Romantics. Such images stress the artists’ genuineness and their defiance of bourgeois conventions. The criterion of sincerity — established by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who set the “language of the heart” in opposition to social hypocrisy — became a central tenet of artistic expression, relegating works produced for particular events to the rank of mediocrity. Thus we often associate poetry with the private rather than public sphere, and continue to use the criterion of sincerity to evaluate past works, particularly early modern productions, despite the risk of misunderstanding them.


Nevertheless, there are many reasons to consider works produced for particular occasions within the social and ideological contexts in which they were created, and to approach aesthetic choices not only as the result of personal preferences but also as the expression of collective projects which may have been driven by political rivalries or alliances. Outside the court, literary pursuits were also connected with politics: pamphlets and various pieces of satirical verse come to mind, but so do emblems and even religious poetry — in Catholic Europe, the canonization process was an opportunity to demonstrate the power of a particular state, city or family; thus poets competed in their celebrations of Teresa of Avila.


This conference proposes to re-examine the relationship between the arts (broadly construed to include literature and the visual and performing arts) and politics, paying special attention to the original contexts in which works were produced or performed so that the political implications of aesthetic choices may become clearer. We shall focus, in particular, on the way forms(be they linguistic, generic, metrical, material, visual or musical) might carry complex political meanings — for even forms that are clearly designed to flatter the sovereign are able to suggest advice, criticism or subtle negotiation. This conference will also be an opportunity to interrogate the very notion of form across disciplines.


Proposals might focus on:

  • official entertainments such as court ballets, royal entries, masques and civic ceremonies

  • literary genres — whether they were clearly connected with politics (like pamphlets) or seemingly detached from them (like pastorals) — and the circles in which they were shared or debated

  • metrical forms, which sometimes refer to other models (like classical ideals or the vernacular culture of a neighbouring country) and involve a network of influences, rivalries and imitations affecting the construction of national and group identities

  • paratexts, which negotiate the reception of a particular text through dedications to important figures, letters “to the reader”, and poems in praise of the author written by colleagues and friends; these occasional pieces sometimes conveyed contradictory politics

  • material culture and history of the book, to the extent that material objects and book formats were also forms that could carry political meaning independently of or concurrently with the stated content


The conference will gather specialists of Europe and its overseas territories from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Comparative and interdisciplinary approaches are especially welcome.


Keynote Speaker

Nigel SMITH (Princeton University)


Scholarly Committee

Papers will be selected by a scholarly committee composed of Mercedes BLANCO (Sorbonne Université), Fernando BOUZA (Universidad Complutense Madrid), Paloma BRAVO (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3), Camilla CAVICCHI (Centre d'Études Supérieures de la Renaissance), Charlotte COFFIN (Université Paris-Est Créteil), Line COTTEGNIES (Sorbonne Université), Séverine DELAHAYE-GRÉLOIS (Université Paris-Est Créteil), Jean-Louis FOURNEL (Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint Denis / Institut Universitaire de France), Sagrario LÓPEZ POZA (Universidad de La Coruña), Karen NEWMAN (Brown University), Bruno PETEY-GIRARD (Université Paris-Est Créteil), Matteo RESIDORI (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3), Elisabeth ROTHMUND (Université Paris-Est Créteil), Jessica WOLFE (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).  


Organization Committee

Paloma BRAVO (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3, CRES-LECEMO), Charlotte COFFIN (Université Paris-Est Créteil, TIES-IMAGER), Séverine DELAHAYE-GRÉLOIS (Université Paris-Est Créteil, CREER-IMAGER).

This conference is co-organized by IMAGER (Institut des Mondes Anglophone, Germanique et Roman) and CRES-LECEMO (Centre de Recherche sur l’Espagne des XVIe et XVIIe Siècles - Les Cultures de l’Europe Méditerranéenne Occidentale).



Proposals comprising paper title, abstract (300 words max) and brief biography (150 words max) should be sent by September 15, 2018 to: