Over the semester break, Dr. Pearson presented aspects of her project on Netherlandish besloten hofjes (enclosed gardens, in triptych form) at a three-day international conference called “Imaging Utopia: New Perspectives on Northern Renaissance Art.” The conference took place in Belgium. It brought scholars together to discuss varieties of utopianism in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia, the initial printing of which was achieved in Leuven. The first day of the conference focused exclusively on besloten hofjes; attendance was approximately 200. Dr. Pearson’s presentation explored utopianism in a hofje (illustrated) from a hospital in Mechelen, then the governmental seat of Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands. Dr. Pearson argued that the work helped to mediate contentious positions on female and male monastic enclosure that were taken up by the hospital’s personnel. This hofje is among seven works of the kind that are undergoing conservation after their designation as Vlaamse Topstukken (Flemish Masterpieces), a term that designates works of the highest artistic and cultural value for Belgium (Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece is also on the list). Dr. Pearson’s presentation led to an invitation to contribute to a major publication celebrating the conservation project and the permanent reinstallation of the hofjes in the newly renovated Hof van Busleyden in Mechelen in March of 2018.
In a forthcoming article Dr. Pearson argues that another hofje from the Mechelen hospital was commissioned by the parents of a blind nun, with whom they are portrayed in its painted wings. The hofje asserted meritorious status in piety that claimed salvation for all three members of the familial triad, by invoking pious practices tied not to sight but to the other senses. Such assertions were crucial, for the daughter’s visual impairment rendered her and her parents spiritually suspect. The essay, therefore, redefines sensory piety as socially persuasive. This approach departs from previous investigations on religion and the senses in this period, which focus primarily on interiority. Check out the article after its publication online this spring, in the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art (www.jhna.org)!