Visualising Knowledge Seminar at the Courtauld

Here is an excellent way to start off the New Year – several of the participants of our network (Eric Jorink, Sven Dupré, Alex Marr, Raine Daston) will be presenting papers at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London in their ‘Spring 2013 Friend Lecture Series’. For further details, please see http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/researchforum/calendar.shtml

Still life by Albthasaar vander Ast, Fitzwilliam Museum

Still life by Balthasaar vander Ast, Fitzwilliam Museum

Visualising Knowledge in Early Modern Europe

organised by Professor Joanna Woodall with Dr Eric Jorink


15 January 2013 (Tuesday) 17.30, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

Dr Eric Jorink: Borderline Cases. Art, Science and Religion in the Dutch Golden Age

The Dutch Republic of the Golden Age was famous not only for its art production, but also at the heart of the fundamental reconfiguration of knowledge that took place in Europe during the early modern period. Amsterdam especially was a nodal point, of both the emerging world trade and the production of works of art and the development of new scientific ideas. While ‘art’ and ‘science’ are commonly considered to be two distinct expressions of human culture, Eric Jorink will argue that the two were complementary, rather than opposites. Focusing on images depicting the natural world (for example, still life and landscape paintings, or of natural rarities) he will demonstrate that these works were more than expressions of vanitas, or the result of a presumed objective ‘art of describing’. According to reformed orthodoxy, nature was God’s second revelation to mankind. Observing Creation and representing it on paper, in paint, or in a cabinet of curiosities, was a tribute to the Divine Architect.

29 January 2013 (Tuesday), 17.30, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

Dr Alexander Marr: Ingenuity in the Gallery: the Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest Revisited

Willem II van Haecht’s Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest (1628) is the best known and most extensively discussed example of the Flemish ‘pictures of collections’ genre, which rose to prominence in Antwerp in the first half of the seventeenth century. Yet despite the painting’s fame, a key aspect of its allegory has been curiously overlooked. This lecture will argue that the image may be read as a celebration of ingenium: a shared attribute of the cognoscenti – be they patrons, artists, or scholars – that populate the gallery space.

5 February 2013 (Tuesday) 17.30, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

Professor Rose Marie San Juan: Wax and Bone: The Re-assemblage of the Body in Early Modern Cabinets of Display


The combination of coloured wax and human bone in early modern displays of the ‘living’ human body warrants consideration. After all, both of these materials held fraught relations to death, be it wax’s association with the death mask and the votive offering or the proliferation of skulls and skeletons in established visual imagery of the afterlife. But the conceptualization of these materials was also undergoing change, in part due to practices of display, which did not avoid the mixtures of objects that had arrived at the cabinet as different in type and status. Thus the anatomical, religious, ethnographic, and curious cohabited the same cabinets and constantly moved to and from different kinds of cabinets. In the process, material resemblance undermined difference of type and status, shifting the terms under which wax and bones were deployed within new anatomical models of the human body. Professor Rose Marie San Juan will argue that what emerged was the body as assemblage rather than the re-animation of the organic body.

26 February 2013 (Tuesday), 17.30, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

Prof. Sven Dupré:  Recipes and Images: Writing about the Visual, Visualizing Knowledge in Early Modern Antwerp

In early modern Europe, recipes were ubiquitous. Avidly collected in manuscript notebooks and publicised in books of secrets flooding the printing market, they instructed readers how to colour glass, make gold, brew a medicine, and entertain (or fool) one’s guests by creating illusory images with only a few mirrors. For all their diversity of purpose, they were all the same when it came to attempting to fix in words artisanal knowledge, which otherwise would have been confined within the walls of the workshop and the laboratory. A good part of the recipes which have come down to us concern the visual arts. The scarcity (often even complete absence) of visual materials in recipe collections and books of secrets is therefore all the more striking. This lecture ponders the questions why, where, when, and who used the visual in writing about the visual. Ranging widely in chronological and geographical scope, the focus is on early modern Antwerp: the largest commercial metropolis north of the Alps, a city home to a thriving book and art market, a knowledge hub of the highest significance.

13 March 2013 (Note date -WEDNESDAY)  17.30, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

Professor Lorraine Daston: Seeing at One Glance: The Synoptic Image in Early Modern Science

New practices of continuous and collective observation in early modern Europe posed a new challenge: how to synthesize copious amounts of data in digestible and perspicuous form? Solutions ranged from the humanist techniques of collation and compendia, a response to the analogous flood of books issuing forth from printing presses, to innovative visual techniques that attempted to compress many observations into a single image that could be grasped at a glance. The table, the composite, and the idealization — applied to botany, astronomy, weather-watching, and other observational sciences — aimed to compress reams of information into a compact object of perception from which regularities and essences could be surveyed all at once, in an act of meta-perception that approximated the intuitions of angels.

The Spring 2013 Friends Lecture Series brings together leading historians of art and of science to consider ways in which knowledge was made visible in Early Modern Europe. The series builds upon and critically engages with Svetlana Alpers’ ground-breaking book, The Art of Describing. Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century (1983). It addresses a range of visual materials, including bone and wax, tables and charts, as well as oil paintings and prints. The lectures will explore the quest for knowledge with reference to physical spaces such as the humanist cabinet, the Kunstkammer and the anatomy theatre. The series is organised in conjunction with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation interdisciplinary MA on Visualizing Knowledge in the Early Modern Netherlands c. 1550 -1730.

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