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Lecture by John Slater: 'Cultivating an Anti-Machiavellian Garden: The Politics of Plants in Baroque Spanish Poetry'



Thursday, May 7, 2009 - 5:30pm


Lecture by John Slater: 'Cultivating an Anti-Machiavellian Garden: The Politics of Plants in Baroque Spanish Poetry'

The Research Unit in the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at Stanford University presents Renaissances, a lecture and workshop series on early modern literature with:

John Slater

Department of Spanish and Portuguese

University of Colorado at Boulder

“Cultivating an Anti-Machiavellian Garden: The Politics of Plants in Baroque Spanish Poetry”

Thursday, May 7, 5:30pm

Building 260, Room 216

Spain is often described as having abandoned natural history in the seventeenth century. At the same time, its literature is replete with floral images and conceits that indicate fascination with natural history. The tension between passionate interest in natural history and skepticism toward any enthusiasm for plants themselves is largely resolved in Spain around 1600, with the Spanish splitting the difference: they avidly indulge in representations of plants and “prudently” avoid becoming enthralled by their actual cultivation. This talk suggests why. Images of gardens and flowers provided Spain with a Neostoic vocabulary to counter Machiavellian images of a body politic subject to the same passions and ambitions as the human body. Furthermore, talking about the trade in botanicals—and substituting the movement of flowers and seeds for that of precious metals and indigenous bodies—allowed Spain to describe its empire as vegetative and natural, rather than based on military might or resource extraction.

Prof. Slater's talk will be followed on Friday by a lunch workshop entitled,  "Preaching Alchemy:  Palingenesis and Power in Seventeenth-Century Spanish Sermons"

Friday, May 8, 12:00pm
Building 260, Room 237
Please RSVP for lunch and reading to Randy Johnson (

When we think about the relationship between artistic or literary representation and scientific investigation in early modern Europe, we almost unquestioningly posit the existence of an experimental tradition.  In other words, we expect people to be doing science if it is to have cultural currency.  But it doesn’t work out quite that way in Spain.  This talk takes alchemy as an example.  Alchemy has an important place in Spanish sermons published after 1670, but none of the alchemists considered to be authoritative are Spanish.  In Alonso López Magdaleno’s biography of St. Rose of Viterbo he approvingly describes the process of producing roses from the ashes of others as “experimentada chimica,” citing the works of Fortunio Liceti, Daniel Sennert, and perhaps most surprisingly Libavius.  López Magdaleno invokes alchemy in part to establish the superiority of the Franciscan St. Rose of Viterbo over the Dominican St. Rose of Lima.  Inter-order conflicts, the relevance of natural historical inquiry to the devotional practices of the post-Tridentine Spain, and the acceptable limits of Baroque scholarship all come to a head in López Magdaleno’s work.  Examining the disjuncture between talking about alchemy and doing alchemy, this workshop will consider ways in which Spanish literary history can help us reexamine interdisciplinary approaches to a variety of early modern problems.

Please see below for details on the lecture and workshop.  For more information contact Ryan Zurowski ( or visit Renaissances online ( <> ).