With great delight I read Herman Roodenburg’s 2004 book called ‘Eloquence of the Body. Perspectives on gesture in the Dutch Republic’. I already posted about it earlier with respect to Jelgerhuis and a lovely video about ‘Welstand’. Roodenburg is a scholar based at the Meertens Instituut, who has written on various topics where history and sociology meet.
Cover of the book (source)
Some of his works have been translated into many languages. I previously read ‘A Cultural History of Gesture from Antiquity to the Present Day, red. J.N. Bremmer en H.W. Roodenburg (Cambridge, 1991)’, of which I found a 1993 Dutch translation in my local bookshop. But his documentations of the histories of honour, humor and corsets also captured my imagination.
The current work, Eloquence of the Body, is a time machine. It took me, a young Dutch man, back to the days of Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687), an important man in the history of the Dutch Republic. And Roodenburg makes it happen because he seems to have developed an ear for the stories that books tell about their previous owners. He scrutinizes the library lists of the Huygenses and compares them to their correspondence and is deeply engrossed in his studies of the old texts on civility (Castiglione, Erasmus, etc.). And from all this scholarly groundwork rises a clear picture of the role of gesture and bodily memory in the minds of the people at that time.
– Castiglione’s Paradox
– Civility and the Dutch Republic
– Incarnating Civility
– Painting and Civility
– Acting and Civility
– Preaching and Civility
There are also many notes and a large bibliography, which unlock the old writings on gesture for any novel student such as myself. It is a guide to thoughts of the past. To stimulate the imagination many images illustrate the points made by the author. For me, it was also a free lesson on art history and in how painting and acting (and preaching) are related to gesture.
Sadly, what is lacking is a bridge from the past to the present. I would have loved to read whether the ‘welstand’ for example is still practised today in the Netherlands. Or how children are taught manners today. Or perhaps some remarks about the ‘Dutch Identity’, a vague term that has been hijacked by nationalistic politicians. I would hope that Roodenburg can make more sense of what is typically Dutch (from a historical perspective) than them.