ITEMP. Imagineering violence, techniques of early modern performativity in the Northern and Southern Netherlands (1630-1690)

Start - End 
2015 - 2019 (ongoing)
Department of Literary Studies



ITEMP is a Dutch-Belgian cooperation, involving four promotors and two PhD students. The project’s objective is not only to publish two PhD dissertations, but also to publish a combined article by the four promotors on the neologism ‘imagineering’, to organise a conference on early modern violence in Europe, and an artistic project on which more information will follow shortly.

ITEMP-Violence concerns the cultural representation of violence in the Low Countries and its relation to theatrical techniques, in the period between 1630-1690. The project has two foci: 1) the (technical) staging of violence within actual theater plays, 2) the theatrical representation of violence in public spaces. The latter concerns both the theatralisation of actual violence (e.g. executions), and the theatrical representation of violence in visual media and at public events (e.g. etchings, royal entries). Both subprojects will investigate similarities and differences between the Northern and Southern Netherlands, as well as those between the secular and religious sphere in both areas. 

While the Low Countries of the 17th century had left behind most of the gruesome violence as executed in the early stages of the Dutch Revolt, violence was still a major theme throughout many spheres of society. The theater was an important place where views on violence were both confirmed and contested. Through contestation specifically, theater plays could function as a way by which new worlds could be imagined. Reality, how it was depicted on stage, and the public’s expectations and perception of both, interplayed with each other incessantly. This process is captured in our term ‘imagineering’ – a combination of image (or imagining) andengineering – pointing to the claim that theater and its techniques are not only representing, but also shaping the cultural framework of a society.

We want to structure the analyses of the practice of ‘imagineering’ along the axis of several themes that as yet seem to be central to the cultural representation of violence: secularisation, exotification, scientific impact, and market incentives. There are many changes in the attitudes towards violence in the 17th century, and the challenge is to incorporate these in an analyses of theater and theater-techniques. Significant changes are amongst others: the end of mutilation accompanying non-capital punishments by 1650 in Amsterdam, the end of the intra-European religious wars and a greater focus on warring ‘non-European’ states, the rising importance of the siege as Europe’s central battlefield, and new views on the experience of pain and suffering. In the field of theater, violence was a popular subject in plays that drew on the new technical possibilities to create awe-inspiring spectacles. These were directed at immersing the public through a multi-medial stimulation of the senses. Even though by the end of the century classicist thought gained importance in the theater, such plays didn’t lose any of their attraction to the spectators and were still being performed regularly.

As to the central concept to our study, violence, we are still looking into creating a working definition without getting lost in strictly theoretical works. There’s the distinction between the Dutch ‘geweld’, relating to the old-Germanic word for (military) might, and the English ‘violence’, relating to the Latin ‘violare’ – to infringe upon, to cross a border. As of now, our selection is mostly limited to physical violence inflicted upon bodies, as well as enslavement and imprisonment. However, the focus will remain on the body rather than on relying on Bourdieu’s view of ‘symbolic violence’ (imposition of norms by dominant class on others, focusing on discourse – see also Gramsci).



Phd Student(s)


Karel Vanhaesebrouck

Vrije Universiteit Brussel, RITCS