Talk: The Disabled Body

May 29, 2019 | Blog, Uncategorized

Foto: Jacques van der Linden, 2019.

On 28 May 2019, I gave a guest lecture on “Beauty, Perfection and the Disabled Body” at University College Groningen,
Groningen. Thanks to Rina Knoeff for the invitation and special thanks to Alisa de Haar at the University Library for access to some wonderful primary sources.


Normal, young, lean and healthy bodies were often depicted in paintings and engravings. They represented early ideas of beauty and perfection. But what about disabled bodies? Were they solely the emblem of imperfection and disgust? This lecture focuses on how in early modern times the disabled body brought about so many apparent paradoxes: it was the visual trope of both miraculous healing and comedy; it could raise emotions of pity as well as of revulsion; it was both the freak of nature and a commonplace occurrence in urban life. This lecture discusses the disabled body in early modern Europe, and asks the question: Is the disabled body the opposite to beauty and perfection?