Category: Blog

The Old Manse, Concord, Massachusetts

‘The biggest little place in America,’ was, for the novelist Henry James, Concord, Massachusetts. Sounding like a slogan for the town’s tourism board today, not to mention like a quaint expression of American pastoral kitsch, James’s phrase is meant to reference the difference between Concord’s modest size and its prominent place in history. In contrast to a current population of about 17,000, Concord was the physical site of one of first skirmishes of the American Revolutionary War in 1775 as well as the metaphorical cradle of American Transcendentalism some 60 years later.

Like a leaf in the wind…

While the iconography of leaflets has been researched again and again – especially since Warburg – less so the political agency of their dissemination and their reception. And yet these prints with text and image, already circulating in the late Middle Ages, quite rightly deserve their poetic name: “leaflet” or “flyer”, in German “Flugblatt” (lit.: flying leaf), in French occasionally even “papillon” (“butterfly”).

On the connectivity of fabrics: ‘Gaia mother tree’ by Ernesto Neto

In 2018, the Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto created, through a collective process, a monumental textile installation in the main station of Zurich called Gaia mother tree that was organised by the Fondation Beyeler. The textile object looks like a twenty-meter high plant, that reaches up to the ceiling of the station building and fills the entrance hall with bright and warm colours. Its translucent structure is made of mainly yellow, orange, red and light green hand-knotted cotton strips. On closer inspection, the meticulous knotting of the fabric becomes visible.

A posthumous publication: Frank Martin’s “Camillo Rusconi: ein Bildhauer des Spätbarock in Rom” (2019)

When recently I took Frank Martin’s posthumously published book off the shelf at the Warburg Institute I was pursuing issues relating to eighteenth-century Italian sculpture, in particular the making and use of models. But the book attracted me also on a personal level. Frank Martin died unexpectedly at the age of 53 in 2014. I knew him well from periods when we had worked at the same institutions, in 1993 at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, where he was a postdoctoral fellow, and again in 1996 at the Warburg Institute, where he held a three-month Frances Yates Fellowship.

Der „Wald von Paris“: Die Rekonstruktion des Dachstuhls von Notre Dame

Fällt ein Baum im Wald… Das bekannte Gleichnis fragt nach der Beziehung von Ereignis und Wahrnehmung respektive nach der Bedeutung von Zeugenschaft und berührt somit letztlich ein geschichtstheoretisches Problem. In den Wäldern Frankreichs fallen derzeit Bäume zu tausenden. Darüber, ob ihr Sturz ein Geräusch verursacht, braucht nicht spekuliert werden: Zeugen sind genügend vorhanden. Die Bäume, allesamt Eichen, werden gefällt für die Instandsetzung von Notre Dame, den hölzernen Dachstuhl um genau zu sein.

Meyer Schapiro: Thinking between Art and the 20th century

Last month, a workshop that I organized on the American art historian and New York intellectual Meyer Schapiro (1904-1996) finally came to fruition. Hosted by the Centre for American Art at the Courtauld Institute here in London, the workshop was conceived as an afternoon of engagement with texts by Schapiro and was punctuated by three presentations: the first by myself, the second by Jérémie Koering of the University of Fribourg, and the third by Hagi Kenaan of University of Tel Aviv. Other scholars, including members of the Bilderfahrzeuge Project, joined as discussants and in the intervening days I’ve continued to think about the workshop and the ideas that it helped generate. In what follows I offer up some further reflections.

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

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