The Tableau Vivant: Across Media, History, and Culture

Vito Adriaensens's picture
Call for Papers
November 30, 2017 to December 2, 2017
New York, United States
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Classical Studies, Film and Film History, Literature, Theatre & Performance History / Studies

The Tableau Vivant – Across Media, History, and Culture


Deadline for submissions: 30 July 2017

Place: Columbia University, New York

Date: 30 November – 2 December 2017

Contact: Vito Adriaensens (


Film and Media Studies, Columbia University’s School of the Arts invites proposals for a two-day conference on The Tableau Vivant – Across Media, History, and Culture, to be held in New York from 30 November to 2 December 2017. The conference will be opened with a keynote presentation by Brigitte Peucker, Elias W. Leavenworth Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and Professor of Film Studies at Yale University. 


The Tableau Vivant conference hopes to bring together research that cuts across media, histories, and cultures, just like the form itself. The phenomenon of the tableau vivant is anchored in Ancient Greek mythology and mime traditions and came into being as a liturgical and ceremonial event in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, first flourishing in the late medieval and early Renaissance period before seeing a resurgence in nineteenth-century performance culture after Emma, Lady Hamilton’s famous parlor attitudes inspired a notable passage in Goethe’s 1808 Wahlverwandtschaften [Elective Affinities].


Tableaux vivants were synonymous with living paintings, statues vivants, living pictures, living statues, Grecian statues, poses plastiques, attitudes, and lebende bilder, to name but a few. While these terms could indicate that an actor, or ensemble of actors, would be holding a pose for a prolonged time in imitation of a famous painting, sculpture, or religious scene, just as often the references were omitted and the static poses and procession of scenes in themselves were the attraction; actors could be entirely nude, whitewashed, marbled, bronzed, veiled, or costumed. In its diverse forms, tableaux vivants were a part of mythology, with statues coming to life as an intermediary for gods to talk to men; they became a part of religious liturgy, such as the Passion Play; were staged at official ceremonies, such as a king’s entry into the city; functioned as anonymous political expression, in the talking statues of Rome, for instance; and were transformed by mechanical media such as photography - from Henry Peach Robinson to Jeff Wall – and film – from Georges Méliès to Ray Harryhausen and Peter Greenaway.


The Tableau Vivant conference invites proposals on the form:


• From Ancient Greece to today

• In different cultures and cultural contexts

• On its terminology and conceptual application in cultural theory

• In religion and religious ceremonies

• In society – e.g. as part of political expression or official entertainment

• In literature – e.g. in the work of Greek and Roman poets, Italian Renaissance authors, or Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

• In performance – parlor entertainment, vaudeville, burlesque, musical theatre, legitimate theatre, contemporary performance art, etc.

• In photography – e.g. in the work of the Pictorialists or Jeff Wall.

• In film and (new) media, from the 19th century to today.

Contact Info: 

Please submit a 300-500 word abstract with 5 key sources and a 150-word bio via email to Vito Adriaensens, Visiting Scholar and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University and Researcher at the Research Centre for Visual Poetics at the University of Antwerp ( by July 30, 2017.

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