The Cultural Theatrics of Early Modern Images of Demonic Possession
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Artists creating images of demonic possession during the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation communicated theological messages by accentuating the most famous and dramatic exorcisms. This project proposes an interpretive structure, called cultural theatrics, for analyzing these works. Brian Levack’s theory of cultural performance provides the framework from which cultural theatrics develops. Levack’s cultural performance includes the demoniac and the exorcist as participants in religious dramas who act in a way that their religious communities expected them to act. However, this thesis proposes that images of possession and exorcism (rather than the historical events of alleged possession and exorcism themselves) are more appropriate subject matter for studying the theatricality of possession because artists held the interpretative leverage of conveying theological messages through depictions of exorcisms. This research shows how the artist, patron, and learned advisor mobilize cultural theatrics in images of demonic possession.