Back to top

Miraeus Lecture: The Visual and Conceptual Evolution of Robinson Crusoe Through Frontispieces, 1719–

Spreker: Nathalie Collé (Université de Lorraine)
Datum: 9 maart 2022, 19 uur
Nottebohmzaal van de Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience
Hendrik Conscienceplein 4
B-2000 Antwerpen

Deelnemen is gratis, maar graag op voorhand inschrijven.


This presentation will examine the evolution of the representation of the character of Robinson Crusoe across the frontispieces that have accompanied Daniel Defoe’s text in succeeding as well as concurrent editions. It will analyse the development of the frontispiece iconography of Crusoe – his physique, his attributes, his environment, as well as the scenes in which he appears. The now world-famous and much imitated stand-alone figure by Clark and Pine which accompanied the first edition of Robinson Crusoe (1719), followed by Picart’s reinterpretation for the first French translation of the novel (1720), introduced pictorial motives that have become iconic and shaped an image of Crusoe for generations of readers and non-readers. I will probe their lasting influence on Crusoe portraiture and scenography, as well as their contribution to the elevation of the Crusoe figure into mythical status. Thus, I will question the interpretative and critical dimension of the frontispiece image, that is, its role as pictorial interpretation and commentary, and more generally its function in the novelistic enterprise.
Some of the questions I will raise in the course of the presentation are: What does the evolution of the frontispiece portraits of Crusoe tell us about the evolution of the reception and interpretation of Defoe’s novel? Does the frontispiece image allow for finite or infinite representation of the figure of the castaway? Does it make room for iconographic and, therefore, interpretative renewal? For instance, how did the elevation of the rescue scene of Friday to frontispiece status in 1785 (Blewett 1986) contribute to the reshaping of the image of Crusoe in print and, consequently, in the collective and critical reception of the novel? Finally, to what extent has the pictorial tradition born of the frontispiece images of Crusoe influenced his interpretation in non-frontispiece, as well as in non-book illustrations? I will end on examples of visual and material exploitation of the most familiar and identifiable book image(s) of Crusoe.


Nathalie Collé is Senior Lecturer in English Studies at the Université de Lorraine in Nancy, France. The author of a doctoral thesis on the illustrated editions of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678; 1684), she specialises in the illustration of classics of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English travel literature. The fields covered by her research include book history, print and material culture, reading and reception, text-image relationships, adaptation and intermediality. Her most recent publications include “Wayfaring Images: The Pilgrim’s Pictorial Progress” in The Oxford Handbook of John Bunyan (eds. Michael Davies and W. R. Owens, Oxford University Press, 2018), the “Introduction” to The Pilgrim’s Progress. By John Bunyan. With the Watercolour Illustrations by William Blake published by The Folio Society Ltd in 2020, and “Author-portraits of Milton, Authorship, and Canonization” in Global Milton and Visual Art (eds. Angelica Duran and Mario Murgia, Lexington Books, 2021). She has recently completed a monograph on Literary Afterlives: Illustration, Adaptation and Intermediality and is currently co-editing, with Mario Muriga (Universidad National Autonoma de Mexico), a volume on Global Bunyan and Visual Art. She is the co-founder of the international research network Illustr4tio, and the co-founder, co-director and co-editor of Book Practices & Textual Itineraries, a book collection devoted to book history, textual scholarship and illustration studies published at the Presses Universitaires de Nancy – Éditions Universitaires de Lorraine since 2011.