Dr Alex Marraccini, a researcher with the Bilderfahrzeuge Project exploring Aby Warburg’s legacy, is hosting a series of weekly online art history seminars on live-streaming service Twitch – this week, she explores two iconic paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Dr Elizabeth Dearnley caught up with her to find out more.

Lovers floating on a lake inside translucent spheres, gigantic kingfishers hitching a ride on the backs of even more gigantic ducks, an immense red-brick tower spiralling into the sky – the macabre, surreal worlds created by the Netherlandish masters Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder have fascinated (and terrified) audiences for centuries.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych altarpiece painted by Bosch around the turn of the 16th century, depicts a hypnotically intricate series of scenes ranging from paradisal bliss to a nightmarish hellscape filled with smoke, darkness and man-eating birds. Bruegel’s two surviving versions of The Tower of Babel illustrate the Old Testament cautionary tale of how humankind once attempted to build a structure tall enough to reach the heavens – and was punished for its hubris by having its common tongue splintered into different languages.

Dr Alex Marraccini, whose wider research with the Bilderfahrzeuge Project explores affect theory and the English baroque, has recently begun hosting online seminars encouraging audiences around the world to engage with art history using Twitch, a free live-streaming service used mainly by gamers. Her Plague Seminar series, which began last week with ‘Plague Objects’, a deep dive into historical visual representations of disease from illuminated manuscripts to Vienna’s Plague Column memorial, has already demonstrated some of the platform’s possibilities for researchers.

Tonight’s (25 March) session discusses The Garden of Earthly Delights and The Tower of Babel in depth, and is hosted by Alex on her channel Twitch.tv/saintsoftness, beginning at 6pm GMT.

‘I welcome other academics, but I’m actually most interested in Twitch’s own native audience of gamers and people curious about the arts in digital space,’ explains Alex.

With the ability to combine video streaming, image-sharing and a chat function, Twitch offers an enticing variety of options for researchers looking to discuss ideas and connect with new communities.

And like any piece of new technology in the scholarly toolkit, Alex stresses, it can pay dividends to master it. ‘Like palaeography, it is a learned skill. I learned to use Twitch like I learned to read, say, Secretary Hand – by using free resources (online help videos) and by trial and error.

‘I’m actually above the age bracket of the typical Twitch user and never play console games,” she adds. “I got the idea to use the service because the electronic/synth musician Grimes streamed her newest album announcement on it recently.’

In these strange and unsettling times, research communities around the world are exploring ways to stay connected. Alex’s seminars invite anyone curious about Bosch, Bruegel and their bewilderingly fantastical worlds to join the conversation.

Tune into Breugel & Bosch: Tower of Babel & Garden of Earthly Delights on Twitch.tv/saintsoftness at 6pm GMT on Wednesday 25 March 2020.

Related information
The International Research Project ‘Bilderfahrzeuge. Aby Warburg’s Legacy and the Future of Iconology’ sets out to explore the migration of images, objects, commodities, and texts, in short: the migration of ideas in a broad historical and geographical context. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research since 2014, it consists of 15 research associates across the UK, Germany and India. See theBilderfahrzeuge Blog for more information.

Dr Alex Marraccini is a research associate with the Bilderfahrzeuge Project at The Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, and writes regularly for The Times Literary Supplement, the Brixton Review of Books and a variety of other literary publications. She can be found on Twitter@saintsoftness.