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What existed in the European imagination before the Romantic concept of 'genius'?

This five-year ERC-funded research project, led by Dr Alexander Marr, Department of History of Art, will examine notions of unique talent, heightened imagination and extraordinary creativity in art and science by exploring the language, theories, practices and products of ingenium (ingenuity) ca. 1450-ca. 1750.

Drawing on the perspectives of history of art, history of science, technology and medicine, intellectual history and literary studies, the project seeks to capture ingenuity across and between disciplines. Studying six countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, England and Spain) across three centuries, it will trace ingenuity's shifting patterns and fragmented fortunes over the longue durée

Research will be conducted in four strands, focused on distinctive but interrelated aspects of ingenuity:

  • the 'Language of Ingenuity' will chart the word history of the ingenuity family of terms;
  • 'Conceptualizing Ingenuity' will explore the intellectual framework of ingenuity through its theoretical treatment in natural philosophy and artistic theory;
  • 'Ingenuity in the Making' will examine the cunning knowledge of ingenious craftsmen and the properties of 'spirited' materials;
  • 'Ingenious Images' will investigate the visual culture of ingenuity, from the iconography of ingenium to the witty disingenuousness of optical games.

This project is based at CRASSH, which also co-hosts jointly with English, the ERC project Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern England: the Place of Literature

For further information please contact genius@crassh.cam.ac.uk.

Funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ ERC grant agreement no 617391.

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