A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A mix of posts on gesture, HCI, perception or robots and some personal information.

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Jelgerhuis and the Eloquence of the Body

Here is a wonderful video that sums up and illustrates the main ideas about gestures that are available in the work of Johannes Jelgerhuis, a famous artist of this time as a painter, illustrator and actor. At the same time the video follows the story of a recent book by Herman Roodenburg, Eloquence of the Body, which is however mentioned nowhere. But the illustrations are all in that book and the ideas are the same as well, although I am only halfway in the book so far. I scanned the book written by Jelgerhuis between 1827 and 1830, of which an original copy is available in the library of Utrecht. It is a wonderful series of ´lessons´ about gesture, posture and mimicry with a large collection of plates, witch Jelgerhuis etched himself. There is also a 1970 reprint avaliable with Dutch and English summaries and all the plates. Furthermore there is a full translation, with annotations, available in Golding’s book on classicistic acting.

The ideas of the eighteenth century about the ‘welstand’ in Holland, or more generally about appropriate bodily behavior for the upper classes are inspiring. They contain an appealing myth: acquire a certain second nature of standing, walking, dancing, etc. and you will be lifted in society. People will value your behavior and may consider you their peers. Yet at the same time, paradoxically, such a second nature was only attainable for those of the right first nature. If you didn’t have the right breeding then you might as well forget it.

Ever since I read the books I have been trying to walk more upright, keep my feet at right angles, and behave and talk as elegant as I can. Alas, I slip into my burly uncivilized manners as often as not. I blame my parents for not putting me into a straightjacket as a boy and sending me off to dancing and fencing lessons (I forgive them for my genes, they were all they had to give).

But Jelgerhuis’ book is not about life. It is about acting. He wrote about the art of gesture on stage (see this earlier entry for links to Johann Jakob Engel, but also to the memory of Dene Barnett). But then, life and acting are not exactly two mutually exclusive categories.


JELGERHUIS RZ, JOHANNES Theoretische lessen over de gesticulatie en mimiek, gegeven aan de kweekelingen van het fonds ter opleiding en onderrigting van tooneel-kunstenaars aan den stads schouwburg te Amsterdam. Amsterdam, P. Meijer Warnars, [1827-1830].

Roodenburg, H.W. (2004) The Eloquence of the Body. Studies on Gesture in the Dutch Republic. Waanders, Zwolle, 208 p. 1e dr. (Studies in Netherlandish Art and Cultural History, nr. 6)

Golding, Alfred Siemon; Jelgerhuis, J. (1984). Classicistic Acting: Two Centuries of a Performance Tradition at the Amsterdam Schouwburg to Which Is Appended an Annotated Translation of the Lessons on the Principles of Gesticulation and Mimic Expression of Johannes Jelgerhuis, Rz. University Press of America

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