The Renaissance Skin project has officially come to a close in December 2022 and in this final news item we look back at some of the project’s achievements and look forward to the future, including Evelyn Welch’s forthcoming monograph Renaissance Skin.
The beginnings of Renaissance Skin were as a tantalising aspect of the HERA-funded ‘Fashioning the Early Modern project’, the significance of which was recognised by the Wellcome Trust with funding for a 5-year project. The project began in 2017 under the leadership of Evelyn Welch, with team members during the period 2017-2022 of Hannah Murphy (who took up the role of Co-I of the project in 2021); Kathleen Walker-Meikle; Paolo Savoia; Natasha Awais-Dean; Juliet Claxton; Becca Taite; Sebestian Kroupa; and Sarah Cockram.
Building the Renaissance Skin Community
The Renaissance Skin project has been fortunate to host vibrant events and to be welcomed by generous, thought-provoking hosts.
The project’s reading groups and invited papers focused on new work kindly shared by scholars of skin, and offered important perspectives, fruitful discussion, and the building of lively scholarly networks.
Renaissance Skin held two project conferences at King’s College London. The first, on 30 November and 1 December 2017, brought together 18 speakers from Germany, Australia, and across the UK, and keynote lectures from Thomas W. Laqueur (Berkeley) and Anita Guerrini (Oregon). The project’s closing conference took place on 8-9 June 2022, and was delighted to showcase the research of established friends of the project alongside emerging scholars in the field.
The project’s targeted workshops and symposia opened up new ground in bringing together key international participants for intensive focus on key aspects of the project’s research. These events included: workshop ‘The Porous Body in Early Modern Europe’ (2017); workshop ‘The Legible Body: Skin, Paper, Parchment in Early Modern Europe’ (2017); workshop ‘Uncovering the Animal: Skin, Fur, Feathers 1450-1700’ (2018); workshop ‘Artisans of the Surface in Early Modern Europe, 1450-1750’ (2018); mini-symposium ‘Race before Race in Early Modern Europe’ (2019); two-day symposium ‘Global Skins’ (2019); workshop ‘Early Modern Surgery’ (2020); online workshop ‘Tattooed Bodies in Early Modern Worlds’ (2021); and ‘Beauty Recipes’ (2021).
As well as hosting, the team attended and presented at many conferences and seminars during the Renaissance Skin project, including in London, Cambridge, Exeter, Florence, Toronto, Dublin and many other locations virtually, both during and after the pandemic. Evelyn was able to present project findings in Melbourne in person just before covid struck.
The Renaissance Skin team conducted field trips to a variety of sites which expanded the project’s research horizons and added crucial questions and findings to our investigations. We thank our hosts at the Museum of London stores, Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, British Museum, Royal Academy, National Leather Collection in Northampton, William Cowley Parchment Factory, and – in Bologna - at the Archiginnasio, Palazzo Poggi, Museo Civico Medievale, and Museo Del Tessuto e Della Tappezzeria ‘Vittorio Zironi’. The team’s hands-on experience of courses in sausage-making (at the Ginger Pig) and traditional felt-making techniques (at the School of Historical Dress) brought new dimensions to the project’s research.
Publications and Public Engagement
The project has resulted in a range of outputs published to date, as well as more in the pipeline. Outputs have included Evelyn Welch’s chapter entitled ‘The Drama of Infirmity: Cupping in Sixteenth-Century Italy’, in Representing Infirmity: Diseased Bodies in Renaissance Italy, edited by John Henderson, Frederika Jakobs and Jonathan K. Nelson. Hannah Murphy’s publications include ‘Skin and Disease in Early Modern Medicine: Jan Jessen’s De cute et cutaneis affectibus (1601)’ which appeared in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine in Summer 2020, and Hannah’s book A New Order of Medicine: The Rise of Physicians in Reformation Nuremberg, which was the winner of the Society for Renaissance Studies Biennial Book Prize, 2020. Watch this space for Evelyn Welch’s forthcoming monograph Renaissance Skin.
In addition to traditional academic publications, the Renaissance Skin project has been committed to innovative ways of approaching our research material, to creative collaborations, and to reaching new audiences.
The workshop ‘Tattooed Bodies in Early Modern Worlds’ (2021) was followed by a very popular public online event in which guests Jessica Horn and Laurence Sessou, of ‘the temple of her skin’ project, explored issues of the decolonisation of tattoo history and tattoo culture.
The Renaissance Skin project’s successful bid for a Wellcome Trust Research Enrichment Diversity and Inclusion grant supported exciting collaboration with artist-practitioner and performer Peter Brathwaite. Hannah Murphy and Becca Taite worked closely with Peter, and the team at King’s Culture, to curate and launch an outdoor exhibition on the Strand: ‘Visible Skin: Rediscovering the Renaissance through Black Portraiture’. The exhibition launch was celebrated on 1 October 2021 in a special Q&A event with Peter Brathwaite and Farah Karim-Cooper, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King’s and Co-Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, and the exhibition was extended to 18 February 2022 due to demand. The exhibition was well-received by pedestrians on the Strand and by the press, with Time Out London, for instance, commending it as one of the most inspiring things to visit in London for Black History Month 2021.
A dance inspired by the Renaissance Skin project, ‘Carnivore’, by Luke Murphy and renowned sculptor Alex Pentek, was performed by Luke and his dance group at King’s College in December 2019. A provocative performance installation, ‘Carnivore’ examined the nature of touch, contact and the lifecycle of our skin. Luke’s meditations and responses to the project’s research culminated in a screening of Luke’s film ‘Written on Skin’, which provided a mesmerising and unforgettable ending to the first day of the final project conference.
As the project draws to a successful close, the Renaissance Skin team members continue to pursue their related research interests in new roles. Evelyn Welch is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol and Hannah Murphy is PI of the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship ‘Medicine and the Making of Race, 1440-1720’, supported by Becca Taite at King’s College London. Natasha Awais-Dean is Research Integrity Manager at KCL.
Kathleen Walker-Meikle, whose work on the Renaissance Skin project included a Wellcome Trust Secondment Fellowship at the V&A Research Institute, has now taken up a position at the Science Museum Group. Paolo Savoia is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Communication Studies at the University of Bologna. After leaving the Renaissance Skin project, Sebestian Kroupa was first a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at the University of Cambridge before being appointed at McGill University. Sarah Cockram returns to the University of Glasgow as Lecturer in Medieval History.
The research findings of the Renaissance Skin project will deeply influence the ongoing work of the project team, as well as their wider networks, a new generation of skin scholars encouraged by the project, and the scholarly community more broadly, not least through the ground-breaking publication of Evelyn Welch’s monograph Renaissance Skin (Manchester University Press, forthcoming).
It remains to reiterate our gratitude to the Wellcome Trust and to thank all those who have collaborated with, supported, and followed the Renaissance Skin project. And while this news item begins with a goodbye, the Renaissance Skin team are sure that the connections made during this five-year project, and connections that will develop going forward, mean that the project’s legacy will certainly grow in valuable new directions.