Renaissance Skin is a 5-year research project funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award. Based at King’s College London, the project is led by Professor Evelyn Welch. Over the 5 years, we will study the wide range of ways in which skin, both animal and human, was conceptualised and used in Europe between 1450 and 1700, a period of enormous change in terms of global contacts and connections, and scientific innovation.
Professor Evelyn Welch
Principal InvestigatorWebsite Email Twitter
- Renaissance and early modern visual and material culture
- Medical Humanities
- Dress and Fashion
Professor Welch graduated from Harvard University with a BA in Renaissance History and Literature (Magna cum Laude) and received her PhD from the Warburg Institute, University of London. She has taught at the Universities of Essex, Birkbeck, Sussex and Queen Mary, University of London, where she served as Dean of Arts and Vice-Principal for Research and International Affairs before taking on the role of Provost and Senior Vice President (Arts & Sciences) at King’s College London.
Professor Welch has led a range of major research programmes including The Material Renaissance which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Getty Foundation, Beyond Text: Performances, Sounds, Images, Objects, a £5.5 million AHRC strategic research programme which ran from 2005-2012 and the Humanities in the European Research Area Fashioning the Early Modern project. She has published extensively on European art and material culture including books such as Art in Renaissance Italy (Oxford, 200), Shopping in the Renaissance (Yale, 2005), Making and Marketing Medicine in Renaissance Florence (Rodopi, 2011), Fashioning the Early Modern: Dress, Textiles and Innovation in Europe, 1500-1800 (Oxford, 2017). Professor Welch currently serves as the Chair of the Warburg Institute Advisory Council, Chair of Trustees of the Dulwich Picture Gallery and sits on the British Library Advisory Board . She is currently the Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator working on a major project on Renaissance Skin.
Evelyn Welch leads the project and will be publishing a number of essays, articles and books as part of Renaissance Skin including articles underway on:
- ‘Smoking, Snuffing and
the Smell of Masculinity in Early Modern Europe’
- ‘Breaking Skin in
Early Modern Europe’
Dr Hannah Murphy
Senior Postdoctoral Research FellowWebsite Email
- Science and medicine in Early Modern Europe
- Professional expertise and "structures" of skin
- Skin Collecting
- Global Skins
I am a historian of early modern Europe, with a special focus on science and medicine. I did my undergraduate degree in my home country of Ireland (TCD), before heading to the States for a PhD in Berkeley. Before joining the Renaissance Skin team, I was a Junior Research Fellow at Oriel College, Oxford. I've written about libraries, physicians, anatomy, letter-writing, ordinances, artisans, and calligraphy. My first book, A New Order of Medicine: The Rise of Physicians in Reformation Nuremberg, which recently appeared with the University of Pittsburgh Press, draws some of those themes together.
As the lead researcher on the project, I take an interest in all things 'skin'. In the earlier stages of our project, my work focused on the medical culture of skin in Reformation Germany - how vernacular knowledge, epidemic disease and changing scholarly practices contributed to a new focus on skin disease. I have an article forthcoming on this subject in Bulletin for the History of Medicine, and I am editing a collection of essays on "Skin in Early Modern Medicine", featuring everything from leprosy to dog-mange. More recently, I've begun to examine broad trends in European medical writers' engagement with "Global Skins". This interest led to a major conference in September 2019. I'm currently working on two article-length projects on this: one on the treatment of 'skin before colour' in early dermatological treatises, the other on the reconceptualization of "African" materia medica in the sixteenth century.
Dr Kathleen Walker-Meikle
Postdoctoral Research FellowWebsite Email
- Late medieval and early modern animal history
- Late medieval and early modern history of medicine, in particular, pharmacology and toxicology
- Late medieval and early modern science, in particular, natural history.
- Medieval natural magic
- Palaeography and digital editions of texts
Dr Walker-Meikle’s research interests focus on the relationship between animals and humans, particularly in medicine and natural history. She received her PhD from University College London, and published Medieval Pets (Boydell & Brewer, 2012), the first social and cultural study of companion animals in the late medieval period. Kathleen received a Wellcome Trust fellowship grant to examine animal bites and toxicology in the late medieval period. Kathleen has a strong interest in palaeography, manuscript studies, and digital humanities, and has worked on the Antidotarium magnum with Professor Monica Green (Arizona State University), with the Consortium of European Research Libraries on archival digital infrastructures and at University College Cork on Irish humanism and palaeography. She was recently a research fellow at UCL on the Inner Lives project, examining late medieval cosmology, magic, astrology, and emotions. On the Renaissance Skin project she will be focusing on animal skin and diseases afflicting the skin.
A major focus in the course of the Renaissance Skin project will involve examining ideas and descriptions of animal skin, especial fur, feathers and horns. I am particularly interested in examining European texts on ‘new’ animals from Asia and the New World. This will contribute to our knowledge on the changing ideas of animal skin in a globalised world in the period 1450 and 1700, and the connections and differences between human and animal skins, in textual, material and iconographic culture.
I will also look at the damage caused to animal and human skin, mainly from diseases such as smallpox, syphilis, scrofula, cancer, leprosy, lupus, and will also draw on previous research on the bites and stings of animals). A wide of variety of sources will be consulted, from pharmacological preparations to treat such afflictions to their appearance in literature and iconography.
Dr Paolo Savoia
Postdoctoral Research FellowWebsite Email
- History of Science & Medicine
- History of the Body & Gender
- Social History
- Intellectual History
Paolo Savoia has studied philosophy and history at the Universities of Bologna and Pisa. He obtained his PhD in History of Science from Harvard University. He has published on the history of psychiatry and sexuality, on the historiography of science, and on the history of medicine in early modern Italy. His forthcoming book, in Italian, explores the history of plastic surgery in the Renaissance and is entitled Uomini e chirurghi: Bellezza, dolore e medicina nell’Italia moderna.
Within the framework of the Renaissance Skin Project, I am currently working on four main research topics. 1) The history of grafting in early modern Europe with special reference to the connections between plants, animal, and human skin. 2) The social and intellectual history of barber-surgeons in early modern Italy, particularly from the point of view of the relations between medicine, sociability, and gender. 3) The history of the professions and practices relating to cutting, treating, healing, and selling animal and human skin and of their appropriation by natural magic and natural philosophy. 4) A revision of the idea of the monolithic dominance of Galenism on Renaissance and early modern medicine, particularly by taking into the account the role of surgeons. This branch of my research aims at better assessing the relationships between humoralism and mechanism in the history of representations and practical interventions on the human body.
Rebecca graduated from the University of Exeter with a BA in Ancient History and Archaeology. She has worked at King’s College London in project based roles since 2015, and holds a PRINCE2 Practitioner qualification in project management.
Rebecca is the project manager, a role that involves organising project events and activities, all external and internal communication, and financial management.
Dr Juliet Claxton
- Early modern material culture
- Porcelain and collecting
- Early modern dress & textiles
- Merchants and luxury suppliers in the early modern period
Juliet was awarded her doctorate in 2012 from Queen Mary, University of London under the supervision of Professor Evelyn Welch. Her research explored the economic, trade and social context of Asian porcelain in England from 1588-1700. She has taught on undergraduate modules at Queen Mary and has worked as a project coordinator on both the HERA –funded project ‘Fashioning the Early Modern’ and a joint V&A/King’s College initiative ‘Early Modern Dress in Your Hands’.
Juliet is currently researching two areas within the Renaissance Skin project. She is looking at the connections between porcelain and skin, both as a literary trope and the physical depiction of animal and human skin within ceramic glazes. She is also studying the development and use of leather in 17th century men’s armour. In particular she is studying the ‘buff coat’ that was worn by men at arms throughout Europe in the early modern period. The buff coat offered a lighter weight protection in battle and freed soldiers from the constrictions of traditional plate armour in-line with the changing nature of 17th century warfare and weapons. The ubiquitous nature of the garment meant that it was adopted as the universal symbol of a soldier and it appears in many portraits and group militia paintings of the period.
Skin had a multiplicity of meanings in Renaissance Europe, where it was often seen as a mesh rather than a barrier. One example that illustrates this is when considering hair. In this period, hair was regarded as a vapour that hardened after passing through the pores of the scalp. And so, Renaissance treatises on skin included baldness, as well as pox, when discussing diseases.
The connections and divide between human and animal skin are also key to our understanding of how skin was characterised, leading to broader questions of what separated men and women from beasts.
The project explores
- The changing notions of human and animal skin in Europe between 1450 and 1700 through textual, material, and visual evidence;
- The ways in which human and animal skins were connected, differentiated, and displayed both morally and physically;
- The concepts of colour and complexion in an increasingly globalised world;
- The relationship between diseases that disfigured the surfaces of the body, skin care, cosmetics, and clothing.
The aim for our 5 years is to create an interdisciplinary, medical humanities approach to Renaissance skin (human and animal) in Europe, 1450-1700, and break down the divide between the study of human and animal skin diseases.
This site is designed, on a practical level, to keep you informed of our events and other activities that we run or are engaged with. In the Updates section, you will find informal reports on research visits to museums or elsewhere and on seminars or workshops that various team members have attended. We are keen to open conversation on our research and the material that we use, and so the Themes section is intended to serve as a portal into some of our findings. Here, under the categories of ‘Defining’, ‘Breaking’, ‘Living’, ‘Consuming’, ‘Protecting’, and ‘Misbehaving’, you will discover sources that we have found interesting and have helped to shape our thinking. Thumbnail images of the sources within each category appear to the right of the screen, allowing you to jump to a particular source, or you can simply explore them all by scrolling down through the page. Clicking on the main image of the source will pull up a larger version – allowing you to focus on the details – and from here you can scroll through each source in a linear fashion. Crucially, this is an evolving resource and so we urge you to revisit often to discover what new material we have chosen to share.
Follow us on Twitter @RenSkinKCL to be alerted on new updates.
We are grateful for continued input and guidance from our Advisory Board:
- Professor Jonathan Barker, King’s College London (About)
- Professor Steve Connor, University of Cambridge (About)
- Professor Kevin Siena, Trent University (About)
- Professor Abigail Woods, King’s College London (About)
We would also like to acknowledge the support of the Wellcome Trust for generously funding this 5-year project.