What are you looking for?

Seminar - Emblems as Episteme: Europe and Japan

In a seminar on 25 October, Paul J. Smith and Ivo Smits will discuss the concept of the emblem, a form of didactic literature using images and text.

About the Seminar

Emblems (“zinnebeeld” in Dutch) were a dominant form of didactic literature (or “messaging”) in Europe in roughly the 16th through 18th centuries. Emblems revolve around a specific image-text relationship that as a combination imparts a message. In Japan around 1800 the importance of the emblem as cultural tool was recognized but also raised the issue of how to understand its mechanics and implications. This seminar will identify issues in the recent debates concerning European emblems and chart how these intersect with ideas in early modern Japan about this important European model of communication.

Paul J. Smith (Professor of French Literature, Leiden University; NIAS fellow in 2004-2005) will discuss succinctly the concept of the emblem, its origins and its development from the viewpoint of literary theory since the last 50 years. In connection with this, he will also talk briefly about his current research in the field of the so-called “emblematic fable books”.

Ivo Smits will present insights from his current NIAS project: the attempts by Japanese intellectuals ca. 1800 to ‘decode’ the European emblems that they were confronted with. By and large Japanese scholars of “Dutch Studies” (rangaku) focused on insights based on empirical knowledge: both for the sciences (medicine, astronomy, chemistry) and the visual arts (realism, perspective, chiaroscuro, copper etching). However, one category of data eluded that category of empirical knowledge: “shinnebeeru” (“zinnebeeld”). His presentation will tackle the ’emblematic’ nature of the Japanese early modern shinnebeeru discourse in its attempts to understand European world views.

The lecture is followed by an open discussion.


A handmade Japanese copy (ca 1800) of a published Dutch emblem.

About NIAS Seminars

NIAS Seminars are organised by the Rector of the Institute. They are meant to appeal to interested parties from a wide range of backgrounds and are aimed to encourage closer contact within the Dutch academic world.

NIAS Seminars take place in the Lecture Room (NIAS, Meijboomlaan 1, Wassenaar, telephone 070-512 27 00). This Seminar starts at 11.00 hours and ends at 12.30. Everyone is welcome to attend the seminar and join the discussion. However, since changes in the programme may occur, please let us know if you wish to attend. For further information, contact Communication