Visualizing Physiology: Hygiene and Representation in 18th Century Europe

Research Seminar

  • Online event via Zoom and on site (previous registration)
  • Data: 28.04.2022
  • Ora: 14:00 - 16:00
  • Relatore: Maria Conforti, Karen Harvey, Giacomo Savani
  • Luogo: Villino Stroganoff, Via Gregoriana 22, 00187 Roma & Zoom
  • Contatto:
Visualizing Physiology: Hygiene and Representation in 18th Century Europe <sup></sup>
What is the role of images in modernizing the human body? The seminar will explore changing ways human physiology and hygiene were perceived, conceptualised, and represented in the 18th century, both in terms of scientific and popular discourses.

The panelists will discuss social and artistic developments across Italy, England, and beyond to analyse the emergence of the modern notion of hygiene in the 18th century. In particular, comparing images and texts related to bathing practices and balneological theory will draw together approaches from the fields of cultural history, classical archaeology, history of medicine, and art history. Such a focal point will help engage methodologically with different kinds of visualising techniques through which 18th-century concepts of human physiology, hygiene, and self care were made sense of across different social status, occupation, life-stage, and religion.

1. Maria Conforti: Waters, fires and medicine: images of balneology in Southern Italy
At the end of the 17th century, the century-old tradition of balneology in the volcanic area of the Phlegraean Fields and the nearby island of Ischia was revived, helping foster a new image of the body and its processes. The connection between the human body and the environment had been extremely important for the Hippocratic tradition; it remained crucial for the ‘modern’ physiology, centering on chemistry and mechanistic approaches to the body. The rich tradition of painting and drawing in the city of Naples in the Baroque and early 18th century intersected scientific approaches, producing a rich wealth of images that will be used for this talk.
Maria Conforti is Associate Professor of history of medicine at the University of Rome. Her research interests focus on early modern Italy, with a special interest in scientific communication (academies, learned journals) and medical practice (surgery, anatomy).

2. Karen Harvey: "I am just going to Bathe": Washing, Water and the Body in eighteenth-century British Letters
The history of dirt and filth in the early modern period is well-established. Yet the most recent scholarship in the social history of hygiene or cleanliness confirms that eighteenth-century men and women – including the poor – adopted a range of techniques. Clothing and water were dominant, linen and skin the two main objects. Evidence has come from a range of sources, including ego documents, court records and material culture. This paper examines the discussion of strategies for cleanliness in familiar letters by ‘ordinary’ men and women. It explores the apparent purposes of these strategies, such as disease-prevention, and what these tell us about how eighteenth-century men and women envisioned their bodies.
Karen Harvey is Professor of Cultural History at the University of Birmingham and runs the Leverhulme project ‘Material Identities, Social Bodies: Embodiment in British Letters, c1680-1820'. Her latest book is The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder: Mary Toft and Eighteenth-Century England (2020)

3. Giacomo Savani: A Disputed Past: Ancient Balneology in Late-Stuart England
This talk addresses the reception of ancient medicine in late-Stuart England, focusing on two central figures in the contemporary balneological debate: John Floyer (1649–1734), a supporter of the healing virtues of cold bathing, and Thomas Guidott (1638–1706), who championed the benefits of the hot springs at Bath. Baths were recognised as essential in the healthy routine of the ancients and prescribed for all sorts of ailments. Ancient practices greatly influenced Floyer and Guidott, and their treatises abound with references to Hippocrates and Galen, but also Tacitus and Suetonius. The accuracy of these historical digressions was crucial to legitimising their medical claims. Moreover, these authors offered different interpretations of the past to push moral and religious agendas or glorify the antiquity of a practice. By looking at the way they engaged with ancient sources, the paper aims to reveal the role played by the past in the construction of contemporary medical discourse.
Giacomo Savani is a RSE Saltire Early Career Fellow at the School of Classics, University of St Andrews. He is currently investigating the reception of ancient balneology and the role of images in scientific publications in Early Modern Europe.

Please find the video registration of the event on our VIMEO CHANNEL:

SCIENTIFIC ORGANIZATION: Aleksander Musial. Event co-hosted by Visualizing Science Research Group and Art & Archaeology Department, Princeton University

Image: Anonymous, The King’s and Queen’s Baths at Bath, 1691, engraving in Thomas Guidott, De thermis Britannicis tractatus, London, 1691, plate 1. Copyright owner: Creative Commons (photo: Wellcome Library).

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