Category: Blog

The Ideological Origins of American Insurrection

In the preface to the 50th anniversary edition of his Pulitzer prize winning study, ‘The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution’, the Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn reflects back on his book’s original argument of 1967, one based on an unprecedented attention to the language and rhetoric of the manifold political pamphlets that circulated in the American colonies between 1760 and 1776. Towards the end of his retrospection, Bailyn underlines the importance of the reception of ancient Roman republicanism among the American revolutionaries and cites one of the most well-known expressions of whiggish sentiment of the time—Trenchard and Gordon’s essays from the 1720s known as ‘Cato’s Letters’. Quoting the letters’ assertion that “words are too weak” to express the magnitude of the impact of the history of ancient Rome on the 18th century republican mind, Bailyn wonders if pictures might come closer to the mark.

Locke to Courten: a letter about “Draughts”

“[…] I the last weeke put into the hands of Mr Smith a book seller liveing at the Princes Armes in Pauls Churchyard 26 Draughts of the inhabitants of severall remote parts of the world espetially the East Indies […] For the excellency of the drawing I will not answer they being don by my boy who hath faithfully enough represented the originals they were copyed from.” So wrote the famed philosopher John Locke to his friend William Courten, aka William Charleton, from Amsterdam in August 1687. If these passing remarks concerning the copying work of Locke’s servant, Sylvester Brounower, might at first appear to be of little interest, they take on much more significance when matched with the drawings that they describe. Thanks to the fact that Courten kept a prominent cabinet of curiosities in London that would later be acquired by Hans Sloane, whose collection in turn helped form the basis of the British Museum, we can do just that.

The Grieving Figure in Scenes of Loss and Mourning in Mughal Manuscript Painting

Images depicting sorrow were rare, though not an uncommon genre, contained in illustrated manuscripts produced during the Mughal reign in India (1526 – 1857). The tradition of image-making during Mughal rule can be traced to earlier Timurid (15th century) and Ilkhanid periods (14th century), whose subject mainly consisted of histories of dynasties, Persian poetic and literary works and biographies of Turko-Mongol rulers. Images displaying tragedy and loss were limited to death scenes of legendary and historic rulers, heroes and anti-heroes, and saints and protagonists from literary works. The main corpus of images, however, contained themes that exalted the ruler, depicted his might and strength and displayed his connoisseurship of literature, art and culture. Therefore, despite their limited role, the tragic end of heroes, rulers and saints were as much part of the literary and visual cultural history, as were narratives and legends glorifying their lives.

Modi and Metamorphoses (II)

This blog post follows on from the previous post Modi and Metamorphoses (I). Based on only this one particular work, it is almost impossible to speak about Sedlmayr´s manner as such, since we do...

Modi and Metamorphoses (I)

An aged man, wearing a hat and sporting an impressive moustache looks, somehow sceptical and at the same time absorbed, towards the beholder. The dark dominating tone of the painting is supported by the background and is challenged through the white-yellowish and in some cases green-redish flesh as well as the white thick brushstrokes in the area of the neck. These broad, parallel lines suggest the texture of a fabric and create a dazzling counterpoint to the dark coat.

Consider the Pigeon

It is now both a convention and also a joke to make the title of pieces about animals “Consider the __” where the blank is the name of the animal. This is because of a now famous essay that David Foster Wallace wrote called “Consider the Lobster”. So now: Consider the Pigeon. I would like to say that, in my exploration of English baroque in comparative context, that this was a deeply thought decision, to consider pigeons. I would like to say that I have brooded over Haraway and theories of the city in the Anthropocene and the now admittedly trendy idea of “animal studies”. This would be both a truth and a lie. A truth because I have been thinking about these things, but also haven’t had the ability to read them, not in any format other than in purloined pdf files. As we will tell our students someday, we’re all Auerbaching it now in academia; that is, if there is a someday and if I am in it, and if someday there are still students.

„Zwischen Kosmos und Pathos. Berliner Werke aus Aby Warburgs Bilderatlas Mnemosyne“

A review of the exhibition „Zwischen Kosmos und Pathos. Berliner Werke aus Aby Warburgs Bilderatlas Mnemosyne“ at the Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 08.08.-01.11. 2020.

Derzeit zeigt das Haus der Kulturen der Welt die „originalen“ Photographien von Aby Warburgs Bilderatlas Mnemosyne aus der Photographischen Sammlung des Warburg Institute in London. In Ergänzung dieser Schau sind in der Gemäldegalerie diejenigen Objekte aus den Berliner Museen versammelt worden, deren Reproduktionen zum Repertoire des Atlasses zählen.

‘Blick Richtung Europa? 15 Perspektiven’

A review of the workshop ‘Blick Richtung Europa? 15 Perspektiven’ (8-9 July 2020, Berlin) by Anita Hosseini and Judith Rottenburg.

Stets richten und richteten sich Blicke aus Europa in alle Himmelsrichtungen und generierten Ideen und Bilder des ‚Anderen‘. Die dabei selbstverständlich in Anspruch genommene Position des beobachtenden und damit auch deutenden Subjekts kann mit politischen, wissenschaftlichen und kulturellen Machtansprüchen und Expansionsbestreben Hand in Hand gehen. Was passiert jedoch, wenn die Blickrichtung gewendet, wenn die Aufmerksamkeit auf die Tatsache gelenkt wird, dass diese Blicke immer schon gespiegelt wurden?

A modern antiquity

Plaster casts are image vehicles par excellence. They can reproduce and multiply three-dimensional form, and serve the dissemination of visual ideas from one place to another; they can record lost stages of a work’s appearance, e.g. pre-completion, pre-damage, pre-destruction or pre-restauration. Often perceived as perfect one to one copies of the external form of a three-dimensional work, they can also accidentally or deliberately differ from what they reproduce, and with their white and even surface they can condition the perception of the works they represent. Thus, cast are also works in their own right, objects with their own history. Yet, for long, they proved rather evasive. Until recently, there have been few attempts to date them either through material or technical analysis. Given their status as copies, historicaly they were often not documented, and where archival references to casts exist, the objects under discussion are often either lost or impossible to identify beyond reasonable doubt. This situation is changing, as a recent exhibition at the Villa Medici in Rome (November 2019-March 2020) demonstrated

1 August 1914 – The First Page of Aby Warburg’s ‘Kriegs-Zibaldone’, his war journal

“On 1 August 1914, after all, the mobilisation was announced. Our Kaiser has proven himself so worthy that he could even lose the war without disgrace; what God may prevent.” Aby Warburg began his war journal of the years 1914–1918 with these words. He positions himself in line with the patriotism of the majority of his milieu of the bourgeoisie, supporting “our Kaiser”. In all the praise of the Kaiser, though, he underlines the uncertain outcome of the war, even the possibility of losing it— a notion present already in the very first sentence of this diary.

From the Archive II: Reading the Yates Family Archive

In the first half of this two-part blog about the Yates Family Archive I have introduced the parents of Frances Yates (b. 1899), her three siblings Hannah (b. 1885), Ruby (b. 1887) and James (b. 1889) as well as the house in Claygate from where after the scholar’s death in 1981 the Family Archive, an adjunct to Yates’ working papers, had been transferred to the Warburg Institute. I shall now turn to the collection itself.

From the Archive I: Cataloguing the Yates Family Archive

In her “Autobiographical Fragments”, written in the year of her death, Frances Yates (1899-1981) refers to a photograph from her childhood. It relates to a period in 1912, when her family was briefly living on a farm in Ingleton in North-Yorkshire. The twelve-year old Frances had been told by her family to work through the books for the Junior Cambridge examination as to supplement her irregular teaching: “I think that this is why I was making an elaborate study of Macaulay’s ‘Lays of Ancient Rome,’ …. or passionately declaiming ‘Lars Porsena of Clusium By the nine gods he swore’ to the lamb in the field opposite. I have a snapshot of that lamb standing quite alone in the distance … and looking slightly worried.”

Das Bild im digitalen Raum: Ein Kommentar zu W.J.T. Mitchells ›ästhetischer Distanzierung‹

In einem Interview vom 02. Mai 2020 widmet sich der Kunsttheoretiker W.J.T. Mitchell der Frage, was passiert, wenn wir Kunst im Internet anschauen. Er stellt die Hypothese auf, dass der Transfer von Kunst und Ausstellungen in digitale Medien je in Abhängigkeit zum Werk auf die Rezeption keinen entscheidenden Einfluss nähme und zugleich eine ästhetische Distanzierung ermögliche, die dem heutigen Gebot des social distancing entspreche. Aber was heißt das genau?

Wellnow.wtf

Wellnow.wtf is a digital exhibition curated by Faith Holland, Lorna Mills, and Wade Wallerstein that opened on 4 April 2020, and featured a large international group of eighty net artists with moving-image related practises. The web address of the installation is the installation site of the show, run in turn by the same three curators doubling as “Silicon Valet”, a pun on both the sound of the phrase “Silicon Valley” and on the kind of Valley tech-optimism that haunted the first wave of net art in the early 2000’s-2010, against which this exhibition is constructed.

The deadly danger of globalization: On the political iconography of the corona virus

Guest contribution by Teng Yuning, Peking University/Universität Hamburg

On the 23rd of January this year, China announced the implementation of a lockdown strategy in Wuhan, a city with a population of 11 million people and the center of the corona virus outbreak. Very quickly, public life in the country came to a near standstill and panic began to spread throughout the population. It was hard to believe that quarantine measures on such an enormous scale could be possible in the modern world. A few days later, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel featured a photograph on its cover showing a Chinese man wearing a red raincoat as a protective suit, a large and striking gas mask, goggles, earphones and holding a red Apple iPhone.

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