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Writing the History of the Smile

Dates:
  • Thu 07 Feb 2019 11.00 - 13.00
  Add to Calendar 2019-02-07 11:00 2019-02-07 13:00 Europe/Paris Writing the History of the Smile

Does the smile have a history? Can a human gesture as fleetingly evanescent and as difficult to pin down be subject to historical analysis? And if so, what kind of analysis will work best? What are the archives of human gestures and expressions? In this talk I will seek to supply some answers to these questions and also to stimulate wider reflection on the history of gesture and expression by focussing on the history of the smile in eighteenth-century France. In the late eighteenth century, we see for the first time in western history a growing public acceptance of the smile as an appropriate gesture of benign sociability, particularly in Paris. I will seek to show how this links to a wide range of phenomena, ranging from the cult of sensibility, shifts in styles of portraiture and painting through to the emergence of something akin to human dentistry. Even though the quality of European teeth in the eighteenth century was at an all-time low (due to the mass importation of colonial sugar), there was widespread endorsement in elite culture for a smile featuring white teeth. Did these changes mark the making of the modern smile with which we are all familiar in the contemporary era? In fact, a mixture of cultural, political and scientific changes worked together to thwart an apparent breakthrough in the history of gesture.

Sala dei Levrieri, Villa Salviati DD/MM/YYYY
  Sala dei Levrieri, Villa Salviati

Does the smile have a history? Can a human gesture as fleetingly evanescent and as difficult to pin down be subject to historical analysis? And if so, what kind of analysis will work best? What are the archives of human gestures and expressions? In this talk I will seek to supply some answers to these questions and also to stimulate wider reflection on the history of gesture and expression by focussing on the history of the smile in eighteenth-century France. In the late eighteenth century, we see for the first time in western history a growing public acceptance of the smile as an appropriate gesture of benign sociability, particularly in Paris. I will seek to show how this links to a wide range of phenomena, ranging from the cult of sensibility, shifts in styles of portraiture and painting through to the emergence of something akin to human dentistry. Even though the quality of European teeth in the eighteenth century was at an all-time low (due to the mass importation of colonial sugar), there was widespread endorsement in elite culture for a smile featuring white teeth. Did these changes mark the making of the modern smile with which we are all familiar in the contemporary era? In fact, a mixture of cultural, political and scientific changes worked together to thwart an apparent breakthrough in the history of gesture.


Location:
Sala dei Levrieri, Villa Salviati

Affiliation:
Department of History and Civilization

Type:
Lecture

Organiser:
Stéphane Van Damme

Contact:
Miriam Felicia Curci - Send a mail

Speaker:
Colin Jones (Queen Mary University of London)

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