Les représentations du charlatan pendant la première modernité et leur origine dans la scène du marchand du théâtre religieux

Katritzky, M. A. (2018). Les représentations du charlatan pendant la première modernité et leur origine dans la scène du marchand du théâtre religieux. In: Dhraief, Beya; Negrel, Eric and Ruimi, Jennifer eds. Théâtre et charlatans dans l'Europe moderne. Registres collection des etudes théâtrales. Paris: Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, pp. 99–116.

URL: http://psn.univ-paris3.fr/ouvrage/theatre-et-charl...


Early modern charlatan representations, and their origins on the medieval religious stage

With reference to numerous pre-modern texts and images, some identified by my own archival researches and not previously noted in this context, this (FRENCH language) paper interrogates medieval performance culture for information on trends and themes relevant to the rise of early modern representations of charlatans. Already found in medieval religious drama and iconography, the subject of the quack healer attracted the attention of some of the greatest early modern writers and artists, and established itself as a major theme in both drama and genre painting. Some represent apothecaries, barber-surgeons, or the itinerant spice merchants and performing quacks or charlatans known in Latin as the ‘mercator’, ‘circumforaneous’, ‘empiricus’ or ‘unguentarius’, selling their medical products and services, with or without the help of performative sales techniques. Others represent actors representing healers. I examine ways in which developments in early modern representations of charlatans, and the performative strategies of actual charlatans, drew on and reflected popular trends in religious performance culture.

Representations of the Holy Women at the Sepulchre of Christ are known in art from at least the fifth century, and on the religious stage from the tenth century onwards. Perhaps encouraged by its female patrons, who were often the highly-educated elite leaders of wealthy religious communities, this tradition’s visual and theatrical representations moved ever closer to providing an emotional female counterpart, at the end of Christ’s life, to the male-dominated visit of the three Kings, or ‘wise men from the east’, whose gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh heralded its beginning. Precedents for the representation of spice merchants and quacks come not from the bible, but from medieval performance culture. Healthcare professionals, whether spice merchants, apothecaries or charlatans, established themselves as the earliest and most significant non-Biblical secular characters on the medieval European religious stage. This significant dramatic development is reflected in a new iconographic tradition, in which the Holy Women purchase their unguents or spices from itinerant spice merchants or charlatans. Following their great twelfth-century iconographic flowering in Lombard, Provençal and Catalan narrative religious stone carvings, the theme of spice merchants, apothecaries and quacks reappeared in a secular context in medical manuscript illuminations. From the mid-fifteenth century onwards, they also feature in printed book illustrations and other prints offering an accessible repertoire of iconographic templates for artists. Here too, in the context of its connections with the religious stage, the quack theme carries strong religious and moralistic connotations. During the sixteenth century, the quack healer became established as a popular secular stage role, and a fit subject for great artists in Flanders, Germany and Italy, of the stature of Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Lucas van Leyden or Giulio Romano. Throughout the early modern period, it continued its consolidation into what eventually became a significant category of seventeenth-century secular genre paintings.

Many centuries separated quacks’ first tentative foot in the door of the European stage, as unaccompanied, non-speaking spice merchants, from their triumphant domination as the noisy itinerant mixed-gender troupes of the lengthy merchant scenes of some fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Passion plays. When charlatans were transplanted onto the secular stage, in the farces and plays of the commedia dell’arte and of dramatists such as Hans Sachs or Molière, this long tradition left its mark; they did not shake off all their religious connotations. Similarly, the quack healer as a fully formed, self-contained secular subject for the visual arts drew on a long iconographic tradition. It first flourished as modest self-contained vignettes within larger religious or allegorical pictorial cycles or compositions. This examination of the origins of quack representations identifies their point of departure as the religious spice-purchasing scene, whose progression it traces on the religious stage from the tenth century, and in illuminated manuscripts from the eleventh century onwards.

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