THURSDAY | Brée Lecture with Dr. Emma Capron, National Gallery, London

Please join the Department of Art History and the Institute for the Research in the Humanities for the 2023 Germaine Brée Lecture THIS Thursday, October 12th, 2023, in Elvehjem Building, Room L140, at 4:30pm CT.Dr. Emma Capron, Acting Curator of Early Netherlandish and German Painting at the National Gallery, London, will present, “From Rabelais to the Revolution: The French Afterlife of The Ugly Duchess.” Learn more here.Abstract: Quinten Massys’s An Old Woman, better known as “The Ugly Duchess,” is one of most arresting faces painted during the Renaissance. This pioneering work of satirical painting was made in Antwerp in the 1510s, but it is in Victorian England that the figure became a cultural icon, after she inspired John Tenniel’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).Between Antwerp and London however, a lesser known but fundamental chapter of the painting’s history took place in France. This lecture will trace the figure’s French journeys, when she successively found her way into a copy of Rabelais’s works, entered an aristocratic collection where she gained her fanciful identification to the infamous medieval ruler Margaret “Maultasch” (“The Ugly Duchess”), was endlessly copied in paintings and prints, and finally reappeared in a satirical pamphlet during the French Revolution as the symbol of popish decadence.Although seemingly anecdotal, the numerous and often surprising reinventions that Massys’s figure underwent in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France have much to reveal about the dynamic dialogue between humanistic thought and rebellious imagery during the Renaissance, as well as early modern attitudes toward female assertiveness. The extraordinary French afterlife of “The Ugly Duchess” provides a potent example of the normative as well as liberating power of grotesque images.