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Art history in the pub

— December 2011

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Ghosts and ghoulies for Christmas!

Dr Christina Bradstreet (Sotheby's Institute) on Scented Spectres and the Smell of Ghosts

Monday 19 December 2011, 7.30 p.m.

The Monarch, Camden
 40–42 Chalk Farm Road,
 London NW1 8BG

Free to attend.

As part of the AAH's commitment to bringing the best in cutting-edge art-historical research to a wider community, the next instalment of the 'Art History in the Pub' series of talks, lectures and events is planned for 19 December.

The next speaker is Dr. Christina Bradstreet, giving a talk (and presenting a fully-scented olfactory experience!) called ‘Scented Spectres and the Smell of Ghosts’

Join in a wintry evening's exploration of Victorian ideas about the relationship between smell, memory and the morbid artistic imagination. Fragrant emanations will accompany this study of smell telepathy, perfumed séances and the pathological implications of the Victorian olfactory imagination.

Scents stirred the Victorian visual imagination, stimulating dreams and reveries, hauntings and hallucinations. Scents bewitched the mind. They influenced dream imagery, roused the imagination and reawakened dormant memories of past scenes or surroundings. They created instant shortcuts to distant ages and exotic lands and raised the spectres of long-deceased loved ones. Perfumes were described as illuminating the mind, lighting up memories and sparking flashbacks or visions. In short, scents inspired visions that both delighted and disturbed, rendering indistinct the threshold of sanity.

The extraordinary immediacy and potency of smells for unleashing the visions of the mind’s eye held a particular imaginative appeal for popular writers. Ghostly tales abound that draw upon the contemporary scientific interest in the power of scent to arouse memories and stimulate the mental faculty of visualisation. Moreover, smells were imagined as a vehicle for telepathic communication between the dead and the living, acting as a bridge between the known range of human sensory experience and transcendental realms. Unseen and intangible, scents signified an almost unknowable presence hanging in the air, which altered moods and swayed emotions, endowing the ‘unseen world’ with a detectable, sensual presence. 


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