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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)


The list below shows Durham University research staff who are members of IMEMS. Click the member's name to see a more detailed biography and department.

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Publication details for Professor Jan Clarke

Clarke, Jan (2017). Problematic Images: Some Pitfalls Associated with the use of Iconography in Seventeenth-century French Theatre History. Theatre Journal 69(4): 535-553.

Author(s) from Durham


The study of iconography is now firmly established as a key strand within the discipline of theatre studies. This essay examines its development, focusing primarily on the theoreticians of the 1990s and 2000s, and its evolution from a sub-strand of art history to an academic endeavor in its own right. As Christopher Balme has noted, by the late 1990s theatre iconography had established a canon of problematic documents, which did not lend themselves to easy interpretation for a variety of reasons. However, as a natural consequence of the research interests of the scholars involved, the areas covered were necessarily circumscribed. The aims of this essay therefore are to bring some seventeenth-century French problematic images and the questions they raise to the attention of a wider public, situate them in relation to previous and ongoing conversations within the discipline, and discuss the particular challenges they present. It opens with a brief survey of the development of the study of theatre iconography, followed by a discussion of a single emblematic image. The remainder of the essay examines examples of theatre architecture, frontispieces, and special effects: the first two because they are of particular relevance to French seventeenth-century theatre history; and the last because it is an area that has previously been little explored. Finally, the essay concludes with some thoughts on the particular problems that surround the use of images by scholars and students today.