30578 - Theatrical Iconography (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Gender equality

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

-A knowledge of the most important images of theatre, the ability to recognise them, to describe them and to comment on them in relation to the most important historical and cultural events;

-A knowledge of their quality as cultural text and thus their partiality and their limits, but also their extraordinary and irreplaceable function in the history of theatre;

- A knowledge of reasons and problems relating to very particular proximity between artists and theatre's men.

Course contents

The bodies laboratory. Performance and society in Paris fin de siècle

The course aims to explore the artistic practices of the Paris café-concert during the Belle Époque (1870-1914) according to a cultural perspective.

The evolution of costumes, fashion, visual arts and modern sciences will contribute to a global understanding of the phenomena of this "minor" genre, useful for establishing links between performing arts, new pathologies and social transformations in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century.

In this sense the spectacularity of the caf' conc' will be questioned through iconographic representations and literary production of the time, with particular attention to its protagonists - Aristide Bruant, Yvette Guilbert, Jane Avril, Valentin Le Désossé, La Goulue, Loïe Fuller, Polaire, among the main ones - of which an artistic profile will be traced and whose performance will be investigated by crossing different sources: visual (posters, vignettes, billboards, caricatures, pictorial works, photographs), literary (memoirs autobiographies, journalistic interventions, testimonies, song lyrics ), musical (recordings, audio recordings), cinematographic, both coeval and subsequent to the period in question.

Emblematic of a degenerate and sick society, many of these famous artists were linked to exponents of medicine and social sciences at the end of the century (from Jean Charcot to Sigmund Freud to Max Nordau of the Lombrosian school) while their performances were the subject of enthusiastic articles for the their modernity, although often subjected to censorial interventions. These performances will also be dealt with in relation to the contemporary initiatives of theatricalization of the disease (among others, the scene of hysteria at the hospital of Sâlpetrière) and of spectacularization of oddities (hypnosis, mesmerization, somnambulism...), which allows to recognize the café-concert as the mirror of a changing society but also the laboratory of a new aesthetic and sensibility that opens the way to the twentieth century and the Avant-garde.


Start on november 14th, 2018.


To support the examination, the following texts are required:

1. Silvia Mei, Eleonora Duse e Yvette Guilbert: atoria di un’amicizia, Editoria & Spettacolo, Spoleto 2018.

2. dossier (available after the end of the course in the Library of the Department of Arts – Music and Performing Arts Section, or downloadable from “Insegnamenti online” platform).

3. lesson notes.

Students not attending (those who did not attend 70% of the lessons) will replace point 3 with a volume of choice between the following:

- Renzo Guardenti (a cura di), Sguardi sul teatro. Saggi di iconografia teatrale, Bulzoni, Roma, 2008.

- Samantha Marenzi, Immagini di danza. Fotografia e arte del movimento nel primo Novecento, Editoria & Spettacolo, Spoleto 2018.

Teaching methods

Frontal lessons based on the analysis of iconographic documents projected during the course.

The lessons will be completed by a special appointment, organized as part of the doctoral activities in Visual, Performing and Multimedia Arts, and scheduled for Tuesday, November 20th, from 15:00 to 18:00: Theatrical Iconography: a revival of studies. New perspectives, applications, models, a round table with the participation of Maria Ines Aliverti, Cosimo Chiarelli, Samantha Marenzi, Silvia Mei and Marco De Marinis (chair).

Assessment methods

The final exam consists of an oral interview on the topics discussed in the lesson and on the examination bibliography.
The oral interview is aimed at verifying the acquisition of historical notions related to the subjects of the course and the ability to know how to orientate within the sources and the bibliographic material for examination in order to obtain useful information that will allow them to illustrate themes and problems and to know how to connect them.

Particularly evaluated will be the candidate's skills: 1) to know how to orientate within the historical period faced during the course; 2) to link the various contributions collected in the dossier and to evaluate the methodological setting; 3) to recognize, analyze and comment appropriately on the iconographic documents proposed during the lessons; 4) to acquire a specialized lexicon linked to the iconographic investigation methodology; 5) to be able to independently arrange a contextualization and analysis of an image related to the theater.

Non-attending students will hold an oral exam consisting of: - assessing the critical knowledge of the bibliographic material, and including the analysis of the different applied methodologies; - the acquisition of specific language; - the ability to orientate within the historical period of study.

Teaching tools

PP presentations; audiovisual documents; digital archives; web sites.

Office hours

See the website of Silvia Mei