Dr. Andrea Pearson presented her research at an international conference called “Holy Children, Liminal Bodies” that was held in Munich in December. Her paper explored an illustrated book on the Christ Child that was printed in Antwerp at the end of the fifteenth century. Comprising a complex array of narrative texts, poetic verses, and woodcut illustrations, the volume, she argued, cross-referenced a range of sacred and profane traditions to intone Christocentric sensuality. Among these traditions were the secular hunt, the vitae of saints, and the Song of Songs of the Hebrew bible. These tonalities eroticized the Christ Child to ultimately craft him as an exemplar and agent of sexual morality for the volume’s consumers. This objective was achieved in part by deploying in the book’s texts and images a fundamental symbol for the Virgin Mary’s purity inspired by the Song of Songs—namely, the enclosed garden. Indeed, rarely accounted for in modern analyses of depicted Netherlandish gardens of the kind is that the infant Jesus often appears inside their boundaries with Mary. Dr. Pearson suggested that for some readers/viewers, the two figures formed a dynamic duo of sexual virtue aimed to inspire archetypal behavior.
(A page from the Antwerp illustrated book about the Christ Child.)
Dr. Pearson has been chosen as a plenary speaker for the upcoming summer conference at the Newberry Library in Chicago, “Attending to Early Modern Women,” where she will present additional conclusions about this understudied volume.