Representations of Conscience between the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

This study examines the notion of conscience in Early modern legal and moral literature, which enjoyed a transnational circulation due to the use of the Latin language and the global dimension within which the authors operated (most were members of missionary orders such as the Jesuits). This corpus was originally intended to offer practical guidance for the administration of penance during confession, and conscience is conceived of as an inner device within every human being serving to orchestrate the negotiation between individual desires and religious and secular laws. This space was considered intimate, but also open to scrutiny and conditioning.

I will reflect upon the sphere of conscience understood both as a medium through which control could be inculcated into the depth of every individual, and as an object of mediatization. Conscience was not only the topic of a very successful literary genre, but also the object of visual representation. An example is the work of the German Jesuit, Jeremias Drechsel, confessor and preacher at the Bavarian court of prince elector Maximilian I. What is the significance of this “mise en image” in the history of Early modern culture and society? What does it say about the notion of the individual, the knowability and relationship with power of the same?