Workshop: ‘A Great Miracle is Man’

Anthropocentrism and Ecocentrism in the Early Modern Netherlands and Italy
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The period during which human activities have permanently interfered with the atmosphere and the geology of the earth is often referred to as the Anthropocene. The cause of this human behaviour has often been identified as a particular way of thinking: Western thought, or more precisely humanism. Humanism is said to have contributed to an anthropocentric – a human-centered – worldview. Braidotti suggests that this worldview took shape during the early modern period, referring to Pico della Mirandola’s On the Dignity of Man (1486) and Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

The workshop ‘A Great Miracle is Man’ will explore those European views on the relationship between man and nature from the early modern period. In addition, it considers how Netherlandish and Italian thinkers and artists have confronted non-Western views on the subject. The workshop combines approaches from early modern humanism, philosophy, science, and art. Ideas on nature have been expressed in landscape or still life painting as well as in landscape architecture and other visual works that reflect the bounty of Creation.

It is noteworthy that alongside human-centered views, counter-movements and radical alternatives have been developed since Antiquity. These alternatives are the central topic of this two-day colloquium. Is Western intellectual history indeed responsible for a destructive relationship between man and his environment or does it also offer alternatives or other points of view that could be a starting point for future solutions? The organizers will explore this self-examination, by focusing on the early modern emergence of humanism and anthropocentrism, starting from three questions:

1) Which arguments appear within ‘western’ / humanist thought but express non-anthropocentric worldviews? How are these arguments constructed, and which clues do they provide for dealing with a distorted relation between man and nature?

2) What is the role of non-western sources in humanism on the topic of early modern ecocentrism?

3) How does artistic production influence the development of humanist ecocentrism?


See here for the final program and abstracts


Program February, 22

10.00   Coffee/Tea

10.15 Director’s Welcome and Introduction, Marieke van den Doel (University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht)


Session 1: Nature and humans in European and non-European perspective

Chair: Susanna de Beer (KNIR / Leiden University)

10.30  The Detumescence of ‘Great Man’: Toxic European Heritage and Planetary Becoming, Kocku von Stuckrad (University of Groningen), keynote

11.10 Discussion

11.20   Indigenous Knowledge in the Work of Maria Sibylla Merian and Georg Everhard Rumphius, Bert van de Roemer (University of Amsterdam)

11.45 Leonardo’s Anatomical Studies: A Creative Interaction between Image and Text, Michael Kwakkelstein (Dutch University Institute for Art History (NIKI) / Utrecht University)

12.10   Discussion

12.20   Lunch (speakers only)


Session 2 Nature and Art

Chair: Laura Overpelt (KNIR / Utrecht University)

13.15   Anthropocentrism and Ecocentrism in Early Modern Landscape Painting; Seeing through the Eyes of Latour and Rosa, Marieke van den Doel (University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht)

13.40   Tree, Axe and Stump: Ecosensitive Perspectives on Early Modern Art History, Maurice Saꞵ (Alanus University of Art and Science, Alfter)

14.05   Early Modern Natures in a Global World, Joost Keizer (University of Groningen)        

14.30   Discussion

14.40   Coffea and tea


Session 3 The Water is Coming

Chair: Martijn van Beek (Utrecht University)

15.00 Catastrophic Thinking: Picturing Natural Disaster in Quarant’ore Altar Design of 17th-century Rome, Claire Ptaschinski (KNIR / Pittsburgh University)

15.25 Venice between Anthropocentrism and Ecocentrism, Gianmario Guidarelli (University of Padua)

15.50   Discussion

16.00   Afternoon Tea


Public lecture

Chair: Laura Overpelt (KNIR / Utrecht University)

17.00  De toekomst van het verleden: Erfgoed en Klimaat (The Future of the Past: Heritage and Climate, 2023), Thijs Weststeijn (Utrecht University)

The public lecture will be live streamed on Zoom. Register here for the Zoom link.

17.45   Discussion and Reception


Program February, 23

9.00 Coffee/Tea


Session 4 Human and non-human actors

Chair: Marieke van den Doel (University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht)

9.15 Juan Ricci de Guevara’s Concept of Man as Imago Dei and Pluriformity of Creation in the Human Body, Martijn van Beek (Utrecht University)

9.40  Otto Marseus van Schriek and Rachel Ruysch, Eric Jorink (Huygens Institute, KNAW / Leiden University)

10.05 The Birth of Mycology and the ‘Love of Knowledge’, Barbara di Gennaro Splendore (ISI, Florence)

10.30 Discussion followed by coffee and tea


Session 5 The Earth as a Garden

Chair: Martijn van Beek (Utrecht University)

10.50 Gardener of the Earth. Humanist Reflections on the Relationship between Nature and Culture in Early Modern Landscape DesignImke van Hellemondt (VU University, Amsterdam)

11.15 In the Age of Pastoral – Jacopo Sannazaro’s Arcadia and Art in Venice ca. 1500, Jakub Koguciuk (I Tatti / The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies)

11.40 Discussion and concluding remarks