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Department of History of Art


Thursday 2nd May, 12:30-14:00, Trinity Hall, Leslie Stephen Room.

Dr Felix Jäger (Courtauld Institute of Art)

After Armor: Military Reform and the Aesthetics of War in Philip IV’s Spain

This talk examines a little-studied portrait of Philip IV of Spain clad in exuberantly decorated plate armor. Probably produced by Flemish artist Gaspar the Crayer in the late 1620s, the painting reassembles various ensembles of existing armor to envelop Philip in a disorienting mesh of tendrils and leaves. Dated after the decline of heavy armor on the battlefield, this striking mise en scène is usually attributed to an “outdated” sense of chivalric ceremony. Moving away from such interpretations, my talk instead will argue for the painting’s key role in promoting Philip’s ambitious military reform agenda. I juxtapose contemporary discourses on army leadership and dress with psychological war studies to map out the depicted outfit‘s “tactical” and “expressive” dimensions. In my reading, the portrait tapped into military know-how and experience to propel a modernization of warfare centered around the personal authority of the sovereign. More broadly, I hope to shed light on how a military eye shaped the making and experiencing of early modern visual and material culture.


Conveners: Dr Donal Cooper and Prof. Alexander Marr