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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

How to do Things with Fur: Medieval Art and the Matter of ‘The Animal’

19th May 2015, 17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Dr Robert Mills, University College - London

followed by a drinks reception at the Cafe, Palace Green Library.

This event is part of the IMEMS Limits of the Human seminar series for 2014/15. Please note that places are limited and will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis to book please click here.

Abstract: Reflecting on medieval explorations of animal-human difference through the medium of skin, this talk will address the theme of ‘the limits of the human’ in a very literal way. Focusing on fifteenth-century depictions of the noble hunt, specifically in the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries and illuminated copies of Gaston Fébus’s Livre de la chasse, I will examine the motif of fur insofar as it registers as a site of both violence and proximity between ‘human’ and ‘animal’. Calling into question the assumption that, in the Middle Ages, these categories principally operated as indivisible abstractions, I will also analyse fur’s role in separating humans from one another, notably as a means of laying claim to sovereignty. Representations of the wild man, who was himself sometimes implicated in scenes of hunting, further support my contention that fur did not simply work to clarify the definitional boundaries of humanity but contributed to a growing uncertainty concerning the limits of the ‘human’. Finally, I will consider the extent to which ‘animal’ itself is a category that admits division in medieval art. What taxonomies were available in this period to facilitate the differentiation of furry creatures from other species of living thing?

Robert Mills is Reader in Medieval Art at University College London. Before joining UCL in 2012, he was Senior Lecturer in English and Director of Queer@King’s at King’s College London. Author of Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture (2005) and Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages (2014), he is currently working on questions of ‘the animal’ in medieval visual culture.

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