Connected Central European Worlds, 1500-1700

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Infant Jesus Statues as Transcultural Objects and Agents of Gift Exchange (1500–1800)

Veronika Čapská, Charles University/Czech Academy of Sciences

Catholic devotional objects, such as miraculous statues and images, were often at the centre of very complex exchanges between this world and the afterworld (Jenseits, zásvětí, zaświaty). Natalie Z. Davis as the pioneer of the historical anthropology of gift suggested that the waves of reformations in early modern Europe can be interpreted as parts of much broader discussions on whether such gift/reciprocity-oriented approach to the divine is legitimate, meaningful, and desirable or, in fact, rather inappropriate, too mercantile and contestable. In my paper I will use the examples of miraculous infant Jesus statues from Prague, Salzburg and Cracow in order to provide insights into various concepts and modes of gift exchange and into transcultural contacts and coexistence. I will explore their power as healing agents, the material culture aspects and the narratives around these devotional objects (including the anti-Jewish and anti-Ottoman bias).


Veronika Čapská is a Senior Researcher at the Department of Comenius Studies and Early Modern Intellectual History at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague and an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Humanities of the Charles University in Prague. She emphasizes interconnecting history with cultural anthropology and visual and literary studies. Her research focuses on transcultural phenomena in early modern history (history of mobilities, translation history, gift exchange, correspondence networks). Her past research projects include for example the edition of the German diary kept by the Silesian noble woman Gabriela Sobková of Kornice (co-edited with Veronika Marková; published in 2009), an English article on early modern convent entry sermons or a chapter on conceptualizations of piety in recent historiography within a collective monograph on key concepts in world historiography which was published by the Charles University in Prague. Her latest monography Between Texts and Textiles. The (Swéerts-)Sporcks, Textual Practices and Cultural Exchange at the Turn of Baroque and Enlightenment was published in Prague in 2016.