New Voices Research Profile - Laure Primerano

The prototypical image of the learned has long been that of a man. This project, however, reveals a different lineage. It investigates female representations of intellectual authority at the dawn of modernity, in the age of Enlightenment, by systematically analyzing the textual (and at times visual) portraits of women in collective biographies of the learned published in the 18th century. Enjoying great popularity in the early modern period, numerous collective biographies of the learned and literate were published during the 18th century.

They contained the likenesses and lives of both learned men and, increasingly, women. These understudied collections provide us with unique insight into visual and textual representations of learned women as embodiment of intellectual authority, both on an individual and a collective level. Which representational strategies were applied? Were these mere adaptations of traditional male-focused representation strategies or were women intellectuals represented in a (visual) language of their own? How did these strategies, in a collective way, validate or challenge prevailing images of intellectual authority?

By investigating which elements became part of the recognizable representation of learned women, this project aims to unravel how these biographical entries presented visual and textual genealogies and constructed collective authorities, thus redefining the idea of a female intellectual lineage within the European intellectual field.


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