Apprehending the Body of Power: The Royal Presence, Perceptual Coding, and the Experience of Epideictic
Binghamton Keynote: Andrew Walkling
The seventeenth-century phenomenon of Baroque epideictic offers a lens through which to consider the collision of the somatic realities of political authority with the rhetorical strategies of the painted image in an age when both authority and image were at the height of their expressive power. This paper seeks to explore the means by which the physical presence of the royal body was translated, through the medium of cultural production, into an object not simply of adulation, but of ideological conditioning. Taking as my example visual and textual representations of the Stuart monarchs of England, I will investigate the processes behind the articulation of a court-centered signifying system in which the discursive energies of royalist imagery and symbolism combine with the synergies of performance to enact a form of constructed subjectivity whose efficacy lies in its selective revelation of the mysteries of power and in its ability to direct and harness the gaze. Provoked by the extreme idealization of the royal person as manifested in the visual and the literary “image,” and as embellished via modes of performance, the spectator sets in motion, through the act of viewing, a process by which the phenomenal becomes the nominal and power is reflexively constructed, and hence justified, as a product of the social formation.
Andrew Walkling is an Associate Professor of Art History, English, and Theatre at Binghamton University. His work focuses on cultural production in seventeenth-century England, encompassing visual and material culture, literature, and musical and theatrical performance. He is the author of two books, Masque and Opera in Restoration England and English Dramatick Opera, 1661-1706: “Most Grateful Deceptions of the Sight”, both forthcoming from Ashgate. He is currently beginning work on a new project tentatively titled “Instruments of Absolutism: Restoration Court Culture and the Epideictic Mode.”