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)
Reception with coffee in the Doopsgezinde kerk, Oude Boteringestraat 33.
1. Henk van Veen, Groningen University, Word of welcome.
2. Edward Grasman, Leiden University, Introduction.
3. 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.
4. Thijs Weststeijn, Associate Professor of Cultural Heritage Studies at the University of Amsterdam, Painting Porcelain in the Seventeenth-Century Netherlands.
5. 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).
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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
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)
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)
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)
‘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)
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)