Darkness in the Age of Enlightenment:
Cataract Surgery and Blindness in the Eighteenth Century – Rosalba Carriera, a case study
Dr Sophie Bostock
Wednesday 7 October, 4:10 pm
Barber Institute Photograph Room
There is a poignant and defiant self-portrait by the Venetian miniaturist and portraitist Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757), now in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Traditionally it is held to have been made after she had temporarily recovered her eyesight following the removal of cataracts. This paper analyses Rosalba’s final self-representation and interrogates it in a number of ways: using the portrait as visual evidence to appreciate how it related to issues of Rosalba’s subjectivity and self-perception in the face of excruciating surgery which eventually resulted in blindness; understanding the artist’s disability in terms of the painful medical treatment which would have been available to her at the time, and in the light of the notes of the surgeon who operated on her on two separate occasions in 1749; through the examination of an eighteenth-century engraving depicting cataract surgery, and by considering cognate examples of contemporaries who underwent similar procedures, for example the composer George Frideric Handel and contextualizing blindness in eighteenth-century historical, philosophical and ideological frameworks.
Enquiries to Sara Tarter: SET497@student.bham.ac.uk