New website for the Horst Gerson Lectures

The University of Groningen, where the Horst Gerson Lectures are held, has now taken over the website for the bi-annual event. Please consult the new site.

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The Eighteenth Horst Gerson Lecture to be held by James Cuno on 8 October 2015

The Gerson Lectures Foundation is proud to announce that on 8 October 2015 the Eighteenth Horst Gerson Lecture will be delivered by Dr. James Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. His lecture is entitled “ISIS and the Threat to Our Cultural Heritage: What Can the World Do?” jim-cuno Before his appointment as president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, Dr. Cuno was director of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s leading encyclopedic art museums, where in 2009 he presided over the opening of the museum’s Modern Wing. Preceding his years in Chicago, Dr. Cuno was the director and professor of the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, from 2003-2004; the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums and professor of the history of art and architecture at Harvard from 1991 to 2003; director of the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, from 1989-1991; director of the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, UCLA, from 1986-1989; and assistant professor of art, Vassar College, from 1983-1986. Dr. Cuno received his A.M. and Ph.D. in the History of Art from Harvard in 1980 and 1985, respectively; an M.A. in the History of Art from the University of Oregon in 1978; and a B.A. in History from Willamette University in 1973. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Cuno is a prolific author and lecturer on museums and cultural policy. His most recent book, Museums Matter: In Praise of the Encyclopedic Museum, will be published by the University of Chicago Press later this fall. Preceding the lecture an introductory program will be held at the Groninger Museum. Groninger Museum Museumeiland 1 9711 ME Groningen 13:15 Welcome 13:30-14:15 Lynn Rother of the Museum of Modern Art, New York 14:15-15:00 Taco Dibbits, Director of Collections of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 15:00-15:30 Discussion University of Groningen Academy Building Broerstraat 5 9712 CP Groningen 16:00 Horst Gerson Lecture by James Cuno 17:00-18:30 Reception

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The Seventeenth Horst Gerson Lecture held on Thursday, 14 November 2013

The speaker was Alexander Nagel, professor of art history at the Institute of Fine Arts,
New York University

Some Discoveries of 1492: Eastern Antiquities and Renaissance Europe

Much of the art produced during the period we call the Renaissance points in one way or another eastward, to Jerusalem, to relay points such as Constantinople, and to points beyond the Holy Land. Conversely, objects and images issuing from eastern lands, primarily Byzantine and Islamic materials but also imports from further East, were collected zealously in the West, in part because they were associated with the biblical past. These facts have only recently begun to be fully appreciated and integrated into our understanding of the art of the period; the scholarship on Renaissance art is still focused overwhelmingly on Rome and its legacy. This lecture explores the implications of viewing the art produced from Giotto to Michelangelo with this alternative “orientation” in mind. The primary thesis to be explored is two-fold: that this orientation produced what we call Renaissance art, and, paradoxically, that the development of Renaissance art eventually brought its initial inspiring orientation to an end, initiating the era of modern Eurocentrism. The focus is on efforts of symbolic recuperation, with special emphasis on issues of imitation, pilgrimage virtual and real, and spatio-temporal confusion.

Horst Gerson Lecture Program (November 14, 2013)

Morning session
Reception with coffee in the Doopsgezinde kerk, Oude Boteringestraat 33.

1. Henk van Veen, Groningen University, Word of welcome.
Edward Grasman, Leiden University, Introduction.
Eva Ströber, Curator for Asian Ceramics at the Ceramic Museum het Princessehof, Leeuwarden, For Sultans, Grand Dukes and German princes:  Chinese Porcelain as Diplomatic Gift.
Thijs Weststeijn, Associate Professor of Cultural Heritage Studies at the University of Amsterdam, Painting Porcelain in the Seventeenth-Century Netherlands.
Anna Grasskamp, Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Heidelberg, China in Your Window Frame: Displaying VOC Commodities in Modern Dutch Private and Public Space.

Lunch (on your own).

Afternoon session
6. Carmen Pérez González, Curatorial research fellow at the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst in Cologne, 19th Century Written Photographs: ‘An image is worth a thousand words.
Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, Associate Professor at the Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University, ‘And Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness:’ The Beloved’s Gender in Transcultural Literary and Artistic Exchange.
Kitty Zijlmans, Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory/World Art Studies at Leiden University, Shared imaginaries: art history beyond the dichotomy ‘East’ versus ‘West’.

Discussion. Moderator: Edward Grasman.

Horst Gerson Lecture by Alexander Nagel, Some Discoveries of 1492: Eastern Antiquities and Renaissance Europe, held in the great hall of the University of Groningen, on the upper story of the Academiegebouw, Broerplein 5.

Reception with drinks offered by the University of Groningen in the Spiegelzaal on the ground floor of the Academiegebouw.

No reservations are required for any parts of the event.


Eva Ströber

For Sultans, Grand Dukes and German princes: Chinese Porcelain as Diplomatic Gift

Silk and Porcelain were the most important diplomatic gifts the Chinese emperor gave to foreign rulers. Silk is long gone; but porcelain, mysterious, beautiful and priceless, is preserved, sometimes documented.  This talk will focus on three case studies of Chinese porcelain as diplomatic gifts, and will explain the specific role porcelain played in the diplomatic and cultural exchange of China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Italy and Dresden in the 15th and 16th century.

Firstly, I will talk about the famous Princessehof dragon vase, made in the reign of the Yongle emperor (1403-1424), found in the Sangir Islands, now Indonesia, made as a diplomatic gift for a probably Muslim ruler on the archipelago and connected with the diplomatic missions, the Seven Sea Voyages of the Chinese admiral Zheng He. Secondly, I will mention a diplomatic gift of a celadon dish and vase from the Egypt sultan Qa’it Baj to the Medici in 1487, the porcelain with the inscriptions preserved in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence. Lastly, I will discuss a group of Chinese porcelain given by Ferdinando de Medici to the Saxon court in Dresden in 1590, preserved in the Porcelain Collection, Dresden, and documented in inventories from the 1590.

Eva Stroeber, formerly curator for East Asian porcelain at the Porcelain Collection, Dresden, is now curator for Asian ceramics at the Ceramic Museum het Princessehof, Leeuwarden, Netherlands.

Recent publications: “Symbols on Chinese Porcelain. 10.000 x Happiness” (Stuttgart 2011) and “Ming. Porcelain for a Globalized Market” (Stuttgart 2013)

Thijs Weststeijn

Painting Porcelain in the Seventeenth-Century Netherlands

Uniquely in a European context, porcelain was a standard domestic feature in all layers of society in the Dutch Republic. The ubiquity of this foreign import stands in glaring contrast to the absence of written sources that explain what attracted the Dutch in Chinese material culture. Even though hundreds of Delftware decorators mastered Chinese brushwork and themes, the rich body of artistic theory written in Dutch does not discuss East Asian art. This presentation will therefore explore another source: oil paintings depicting Chinese wares.

Works by Willem Kalf and Jurriaen van Streeck, among the highlights of still life painting in the Netherlands, present various questions. Did the inclusion of a porcelain bowl imply a reference to China or even to Asia in general? Why do paintings only represent ceramics and not the Chinese paintings, sculptures, calligraphy, and books that were also present in Dutch households? What information does visual and technical analysis yield in regard to the fascination exerted by porcelain? Did artists and potters, who shared the same professional organization, feel that they confronted a similar challenge when they tried to recreate the unknown material?

This talk will explore to what extent paintings of porcelain were repositories of material and optical knowledge, embedded in epistemological discussions involving not only the oil painter’s craft but also chemistry and medicine. Painted porcelain conjured up the association between the ‘secret’ of making porcelain and the alleged secrets of the artist’s workshop.

Thijs Weststeijn is Associate Professor of Cultural Heritage Studies at the University of Amsterdam. He chairs the VIDI research project “The Chinese Impact: Images and Ideas of China in the Dutch Golden Age”.

Recent publication: Thijs Weststeijn (ed.) The Universal Art of Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678), Painter, Writer, and Courtier (Amsterdam 2013)

Anna Grasskamp

China in Your Window Frame: Displaying VOC Commodities in Modern Dutch Private and Public Space

In April 2013, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam re-opened. It decided for a strategy in which ‘history’ is exhibited through and alongside artworks, having period room elements intersect with white cube displays, relating it to controversies surrounding the (now-abandoned) idea of a Museum of Dutch History. While the greater part of the Rijksmuseum’s Asian artefacts appear in the so-called Asian pavilion outside the main building, some also appear in the main building’s displays of Dutch history. Starting with a critical investigation of the Rijksmuseum’s new display, that I situate within the Dutch museum landscape, most notably in relation to the Scheepvaartmuseum, I tackle the use of Asian objects in displays of the history of the Dutch East India Company.

I then connect my findings on the role of ‘Asia’ within museum displays to the semi-public exhibits conspicuously put on show in the street-side windows of numerous Dutch houses. Aesthetically, the glass of these windows makes them comparable to the glass boxes of museums. Yet, the windows are semi-private settings, Asian objects being accompanied by artificial or genuine (tropical) flowers, occasionally placed alongside ‘typical’ Dutch designs, miniature clogs and window-cleaning gnomes. Visually, these items frame the street gaze’s access to private space, screening the pedestrian’s perception of the house, arguably staging individual identity, personal wealth and family heritage through a conspicuous display of material culture.

While the public museum stages Asian artefacts, among them in particular chinaware, as part of a national narrative, in the private realms of family heritage individual pieces are often provided with personalized stories of Dutch-Asian material culture connections. To what extent do these two different realms relate to each other? And how are object-related narratives of family heritage different from the way that national heritage is put on display in the museum?

Anna Grasskamp is Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Heidelberg.

Recent publication: “Metamorphose in Rot: Die Inszenierung von Korallenfragmenten in Kunstkammern des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts,” Tierstudien 4 (forthcoming in October 2013)

Carmen Pérez González

19th-Century Written Photographs: An image is worth a thousand words?

An image is worth a thousand words. This well-known saying is present in all European languages, such as Spanish, and also in some Asian languages, such as Japanese. Remarkably, Persian does not have such a saying. An image is worth a thousand words…. and if so, why would photographers, calligraphers, sitters or collectors write on the photographs? Which kinds of messages are written on the photographs? Do they complement the image? Do they manipulate the meaning/reading of the image? Are these written messages culturally conditioned? In this presentation I compare two different photographic corpuses of images containing handwritten text—Iranian and Spanish—that date from the mid-19th-century to the early 20th-century.

First, my paper specifically examines Iranian photographs dated from 1864 to 1930, and postcards printed during the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (Mashruteh) (1906- 1911) and its aftermath. Kept in archives in Iran and abroad, the remarkable amount of these images with inscriptions not only forces the question of the aforementioned saying by its mere inexistence in this language, but also because of the very fact that such written images are so widely available and appears in much higher numbers than in other cultures. To differentiate between this volume of Iranian photographs, I have developed (at least) three possible ways of classification: by the type of script; by the content and meaning of the inscription; and by the way in which the inscription has been added to the photographic space (layout). Since most of these written messages are poems, I further classify the photographs according to poetic content and meaning that may be personal referring to the sitter or may be literary citing classical Iranian poets, philosophers or religious scripture.

Next, I employ this analysis to the Spanish photographs, which result in less variability of written content and meaning. For example, the written texts are always emotional messages typically inscribed by the sitter (and owner) of the photograph for a beloved. This intimate practice appears as a pattern using a standardized formula found consistently around Spain and across different decades of the 19th century and early 20th century.

This paper aims to show how images inscribed with written messages (both in meaning and form) are as much culturally conditioned as the photographs themselves (i.e. objects held by the sitter, backdrops, pose of the sitter, etc).

Carmen Pérez González is Curatorial research fellow at the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst in Cologne. Her main research interest is 19th-century Iranian indigenous photography, but also local photography of other Asian countries such as Japan, China, and India.

Recent publication: Reza Sheikh, Carmen Perez Gonzalez (eds.) Special issue of the journal History of Photography, on 19th-century and early 20th-century Iranian photography (Feb. 2013)

Asghar Seyed-Gohrab

‘And Thou beside me singing in the Wilderness:’ The Beloved’s Gender in Transcultural Literary and Artistic Exchange

Edward Fitzgerald’s (1809-1883) Rubáiyát is perhaps the most successful rendition of a foreign classic into English. Through his adaptation of the poetry attributed to the Persian astronomer and mathematician Omar Khayyam (c. 1048-1123), Fitzgerald conveyed characteristic Persian sentiments such as carpe diem and hedonistic philosophy, in forms recognizable to his Victorian readers. His adaptation influenced other translators’ and artists’ depictions of the Fitzgerald / Omar Khayyam ‘beloved.’ In this paper, I will demonstrate how the beloved in the homo-erotic original Persian became a female beloved in most of Western translations and depictions, which affected even the indigenous modern reception of this poetry. This has led to the feminization of the beloved in this poetic genre, which has inspired visual artists from East and West.

Asghar Seyed-Gohrab is Associate Professor at the Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University. He heads the project Of Poetry and Politics: Classical Poetic Concepts in the New Politics of Twentieth Century Iran, financed by a five-year research grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

Recent publication: Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, K. Talattof (eds.) Conflict and Development in Iranian Film (Leiden 2013)

Kitty Zijlmans

Shared imaginaries: art history beyond the dichotomy ‘East’ versus ‘West’

For a large part art history has been written as a national imaginary, reflecting, communicating, even propagating regional identities, and in any case, art is very often marketed nationally. In contrast, artists rarely feel this geographical connection, and if they reflect upon it in their work, it is a deliberate choice. In his book Modernity at Large (1996) Arjun Appadurai argues against a geographical definition of cultures and sees the imagination as a social practice, as form of work in the sense of both labour and a culturally organized practice that enables to negotiate between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility. This concept has been taken up by Hans Belting and Andrea Buddensieg in their wide-ranging exhibition ‘The Global Contemporary and the Rise of New Art Worlds’ that ran from 17 September 2011 to 5 February 2012 in the ZKM, Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, and the accompanying book. Belting takes the view that contemporary art is global by definition because it touches on problems important all over the world, that is, its critique targets the processes shaping the present time anywhere, a forteriori after 1989. On the basis of examples of art works such as Fouad Bellamine’s Sacrifice (2005) and from ‘The Global Contemporary’, this short paper investigates how art can evoke social experience of supra-geographical issues.

Kitty Zijlmans is Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory/World Art Studies at Leiden University and at present Director of LUCAS, Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society. Her main interest is in the field of contemporary art and theory, globalisation, artistic research.

Recent publication: Judith Thissen, Rob Zwijnenberg, Kitty Zijlmans (eds.) Contemporary Culture. New Directions in Art and Humanities Research (Amsterdam 2013)

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Latest Gerson Lecture held in Groningen on 10 November 2011

Eye, memory, hand: the nineteenth-century debate about the role of visual memory in the creative process

The latest Gerson Lecture, with this intriguing title, was delivered by Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Professor of Art History and Museum Studies at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. Prof. ten-Doesschate Chu is the author of the widely acclaimed text book Nineteenth-century European art, among other important publications. The lecture took place in the aula of the University of Groningen at 16:00 on Thursday, 10 November 2011.

In her lecture, Prof. ten-Doesschate Chu discussed the 19th-century debate on the role of memory in the creative process. Was a strongly developed visual memory a positive asset, which would help artists render visible reality in a more convincing way? Or was it an obstacle that kept them from looking at reality with a fresh, not preconditioned eye? Professor ten-Doesschate Chu traced the various points of view in this debate, in theory as well as practice. Attitudes explored included those of the prominent art teacher Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, who strongly advocated a good visual memory, Lowes Dalbiac Luard, who believed that a good visual memory was essential for the representation of movement, and Baudelaire, according to whom visual memory was essential for all painters of modern life. Also discussed were opinions to the contrary, such as those of Georg Hirth, founder of Der Jugend, and Claude Monet, who pleaded for artistic naïvité and considered memory as a handicap that blocks vision.

Earlier in the day a program of talks on related topics was held, which was widely attended by students, staff and the public.

Morning session
Reception with coffee in the Department of Art History, Oude Boteringestraat 34

Three lectureswere held in the Doopsgezinde Kerk, across the street at Oude Boteringestraat 33

Prof. dr. Saskia de Bodt, Bijzonder Hoogleraar Illustratie, Faculteit Geesteswetenschappen, Universiteit van Amsterdam: Inleiding

Hanna Klarenbeek, MA, Docent Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen, Radboud Universiteit: ‘Penseelprinsessen & Broodschilderessen: een onderzoek naar vrouwen in de beeldende kunst: 1808-1913’

Jan Dirk Baetens, K.U., Leuven, ‘De vroeggeboorte van de laatkomer: melancholie en herinnering in het werk van Henri Leys (1815-1869)’

Lunch (on your own)

Afternoon session
Three lectures were held in the Doopsgezinde Kerk, Oude Boteringestraat 34

Dr. Ellinoor Bergvelt, Universitair hoofddocent Cultuurgeschiedenis van Europa, Universiteit van Amsterdam: Inleiding en voordracht: ‘Recente ontwikkelingen in het onderzoek naar de invloed van Nederlandse en Vlaamse kunst in Groot-Brittanië (ca. 1750-1850)’

Merel van Erp, MA, Sotheby’s Amsterdam: ‘Lijsten voor 17de-eeuwse schilderijen in het Rijksmuseum: de verschillende lijsten voor De Brieflezende Vrouw van Johannes Vermeer (ca. 1830-heden)’

Claudia Hörster, MA, Conservator Kunstverzameling Koninklijk Huisarchief, Den Haag: ‘Kunstenaars & “Von Branntwein glühende Scharen beiderlei Geschlechts”: het publiek van het Rijksmuseum in het Trippenhuis (1844-1878)’

Horst Gerson Lecture by Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, to be held in the aula of the University of Groningen, on the upper story of the Academiegebouw, Broerplein 5

Reception with drinks offered by the University of Groningen in the Spiegelzaal on the ground floor of the Academiegebouw

The program was open to all without charge or registration.

For further information, contact the treasurer of the Gerson Lectures Foundation, Jan de Jong, tel. 050 – 363 60 91, e-mail:


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The Horst Gerson Lectures of the University of Groningen

Over the past thirty-five years the University of Groningen has established a noteworthy tradition. Every second year a prominent art historian, most often a scholar from abroad, comes to Groningen to present the Horst Gerson Lecture. An invitation to deliver the Horst Gerson Lecture has become a recognized distinction in the international art-historical world.

The initiative to hold a series of lectures in honor of Horst Gerson (1907-1978) was taken by Professor Henk van Os when he was head of the department of art history in Groningen as Gerson’s successor. The main objective of the lectures is to perpetuate the memory of a well-loved, inspiring art historian who after his young years in Berlin and maturity in The Hague rounded off his distinguished career as a professor of art history in Groningen. The Gerson Lectures Foundation does this by holding innovative public lectures by leading practitioners of Gerson’s discipline. The lectures are formal university events under the aegis of the dean of the Faculty of Arts.

The speakers are asked to deliver lectures on their own current research, in a form that opens new perspectives for colleagues but can be followed by a general audience as well. The policy to invite foreign art historians to hold the Horst Gerson Lecture is in the spirit of the way that Gerson himself drew on his extensive international network to bring guest speakers to the Netherlands.

The first Horst Gerson Lecture was delivered in 1981 by Horst W. Janson, the most recent one by Petra ten-Doesschate Chu. All of the Horst Gerson Lectures have been published individually in attractive, illustrated booklets that have become collector’s items.

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