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D’après nature

Images of Body, Travel, Science and Empires (XVIIIth-XXth Centuries)

Images du corps, voyages, science et empires (XVIIIe-XXe siècle)

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Published on Thursday, June 16, 2022


Au moment où l’anthropologie s’institutionnalise en tant que discipline, la plupart des anthropologues étudie les populations extra-occidentales depuis les métropoles, sur la base de corpus visuels et matériels collectés in situ par des voyageurs. Avant l’événement de la photographie et du cinéma, cette pratique se fonde d’abord sur les dessins et ses avatars (aquarelles, peintures) ainsi que sur les moulages des corps réalisés d’après nature. Ce workshop se propose d’engager une réflexion sur ces représentations corporelles réalisées par des voyageurs, terme commun qui regroupe des aventuriers, ethnographes, anthropologues, géographes, marchands, militaires, missionnaires, ou encore naturalistes.



At the time when anthropology was becoming institutionalised as a discipline, most anthropologists were studying non-Western populations from urban centers, on the basis of a visual and material corpus collected in situ. Before the advent of photography and cinema, this data was first of all composed of drawings and its variations (watercolors, paintings) as well as plaster casts made from live models. This workshop will reflect representations of the body made by European travelers, a term that ranges from adventurers to ethnographers, anthropologists, geographers, merchants, soldiers, missionaries and naturalists. Beyond their specific skills, all of these groups share a practice of observation based on the eminently artistic ideal of painting ‘après nature,’ or ‘from nature’. While Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s reference book Objectivity considers this ideal in the field of botany, we will focus here on the images of bodies gathered in travel diaries and facial casts made in vivo. We invite reflection on these representations in the light of the notions of the innocent eye, the witnessing eye, the naturalist eye or the scientific eye in order to analyse the ideological stakes of these different point of views and study their relationship to field experience, which claims to document a process of authentic knowledge, as close as possible to reality. We will also question the diffusion and circulation of drawings and body casts in the collective imagination (travel literature, illustrated press), as well as in anthropological works, museums and exhibitions where they are set up as scientific evidences. These representations also support theories of population classification, and the term 'from nature' is invoked by anthropologists in scientific texts as a guarantee of authenticity in order to legitimize the objectivity of their theses. Finally, the study of these visual and material corpus constitutes a new perspective to problematise the notion of the informal empire and to understand the links between images, science and empire in contexts that are not exclusively colonial. 

We hope that the workshop will provide an opportunity for art historians, anthropological historians, historians of science and historians to meet researchers with different methodological approaches. In particular, we welcome contributions in the three following areas:


Questions on the relationship between travelling, seeing and representing. In what way do representations of bodies participate in the process of colonisation? What is given to see? What is given to believe? Analysis of the visual corpus produced by travelers in the light of the notions of informal and formal empire.


Reflection on the epistemological status of representations and casts of bodies as field tools. What place is reserved for these images in the Travel Instructions written by the various institutions and learned societies since the 18th century? How does an image  become a scientific 'proof'? 

Diffusion, circulation and reception

  • Study of the diffusion, circulation and reception of representations of the body in the West and in the countries explored in different fields and through different media.
  • Diffusion in scientific works,  travel literature and illustrated newspapers forming a collective imaginary; circulation of anthropological casts in anthropology museums and in colonial exhibitions.
  • The intermediality of different collecting practices (drawings, paintings, casts). Attention will be paid to the techniques of reproduction of drawings such as lithographs, woodcuts or engraving. How are drawings from travelogues reworked, filtered and transformed for publication?

Application procedures and organization

To submit a proposal, please send a proposal (500 words) and a biographical note (150 words)

at lucia.piccioni@eui.eu

The submission deadline is July 7th, 2022,

and responses will be given on July 12th, 2022.

Exchanges will be held in French and English.

Travel and/or accommodation expenses will be covered.

Conference dates

7 and 8 September 2022 at the Institut National d’Histoire de l'Art

Event only on site


  • Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art - Galerie Colbert, 2 Rue Vivienne
    Paris, France (75002)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


  • Thursday, July 07, 2022


  • étude visuelle, histoire de l'art, culture matérielle, anthropologie, empire, colonialisme


  • Lucia Piccioni
    courriel : lucia [dot] piccioni [at] eui [dot] eu

Information source

  • Lucia Piccioni
    courriel : lucia [dot] piccioni [at] eui [dot] eu


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« From Nature », Study days, Calenda, Published on Thursday, June 16, 2022, https://doi.org/10.58079/193h

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