Monthly Archives: February 2017

DEPARTMENTAL RESEARCH SEMINAR: 1 MARCH

‘O Say Can You See: American Art, Propaganda, and the First World War’

Professor David Lubin (Wake Forest University & Terra Foundation Visiting Professor University of Oxford)

Wednesday 1 March
4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre

Co-organised with the American and Canadian Studies Centre, University of Birmingham

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Childe Hassam, Early Morning on the Avenue in May 1917 (Addison Gallery, 1917)

Abstract:
In the mid 1910s, American artists, photographers, and graphic designers played an engaged and sometimes controversial role in helping their countrymen decide whether to intervene in the Great War or remain neutral. Focusing on a painting by the American Impressionist Childe Hassam, which shows a panoply of Allied flags flying above Fifth Avenue shortly after the United States declared war on Germany, David Lubin considers how patriotism, religion, gender, banking, and pacifism were all called into play visually as the First World War sucked America into its vortex.

Biographical Information:
David Lubin, the Charlotte C. Weber Professor of Art at Wake Forest University and Terra Foundation for American Art Visiting Professor at Oxford University, is the author of Grand Illusions: American Art and the First World War (Oxford University Press, 2016) and co-organizer of World War I and American Art, an exhibition now on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

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DEPARTMENTAL RESEARCH SEMINAR: 22 FEBRUARY

‘Disalienation: ownership, performance, repatriation’

Professor Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll (University of Oxford)

Wednesday 22 February
4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre

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Penacho: Pracht & Passion exhibition installation view, Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna, 2012. APA-PictureDesk.

Abstract:
This lecture reflects on a process of disalienation that drives repatriations, the performances, replications, and provenance research involved. In a case study I focus on the inbetweenness of ‘Montezuma’s Crown’ – el Penacho – which comes to stand for all museum objects, suspended in a shock-proof vitrine in the Weltmuseum in Vienna. While Mexican tourists press against the glass case, making a pilgrimage to see the crown as a way of connecting with a lost Aztec heritage, the uncertain provenance of the headdress makes this an ambiguous relic. The historical movement of the Penacho from Central America to Central Europe instead speaks of Austria’s thwarted imperial ambitions, while conservators’ insistence that the crown cannot be moved due to its fragility is now used as an excuse to rebuff demands by the Mexican government to repatriate it. I trace the various ways in which the Penacho straddles ontological and epistemological domains and how its suspension in the museum’s vitrine represents a metaphor for the political stalemate in which it is now caught. Relationships between art and ideology are refocussed through the lens of fascism, trauma, and colonial claims for restitution that refer to cases of Nazi looting. The lecture will present examples from contemporary art and museum practises that challenge notions of origin and forms of property ownership.

Biographical Information:
Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll is an artist and Professorial Fellow of Global Art History at the University of Birmingham. She is the author of the book Art in the Time of Colony, and related exhibitions that include Ore Black Ore in the Allegory of the Cave Painting at Extracity Antwerp; Investigated at Savvy Contemporary Berlin; Artists in Residence at the Pitt Rivers; Embassy Embassy at Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin. Her installations and texts have been exhibited and performed at the Venice Biennale, Institute of Contemporary Art London, Pesta Bonka Festival Indonesia, and the Marrakech Biennale. An expert in contemporary art and colonialism as well as the history of museums and collecting, she wrote her M.A. and Ph.D. at Harvard University about Aboriginal Art. She is an editor of the journal Third Text, and has also been the curator of various international exhibitions including Julie Gough: The Lost World (Part 2) which has just formed the basis of her most recent book The Important of Being Anachronistic: Contemporary Aboriginal Art and Museum Reparations.

She is currently completing an edited volume Botanical Drift: Economic Botany and its Plant Protagonists, and a book about the Immigration Detention Archive that she is adapting for the stage in a new commission from the Konzerttheatre Bern. She is also working on a book project that provides the basis for this lecture, Fragile Crown: Empire, Collection, Restitution, which is about the complexities of restitution arguments for the return of cultural property.

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter: SET497@student.bham.ac.uk

What’s in a Bruegel? Not a “h,” according to Jonathan Jones

JAMIE EDWARDS

One of the things people often ask is ‘how exactly do you spell Bruegel: is it with the “h”? or without?’ Truth is, it’s both. Bruegel signed his name both ways, and, in his early career, there were other spellings besides those two main ones. In fact, if you wanted to be precise – and a bit of pedantry can go a long way – you could rephrase the simple question ‘is it spelled with the “h”? or without?’ as the much more cumbersome: ‘so is with the “h,” or without? but what about the “u”? should I include a diaeresis over the “u”? or is it a macron that I need?’ And, to be honest, it’s not just a matter of how it’s spelled, because there’s also the matter of how Bruegel styled his signature: is it lowercase, in italics? or is it uppercase, with all sorts of other idiosyncrasies thrown in for good measure (which letters should be given as a ligature, for instance?). For in the corpus of autograph paintings and drawings by Bruegel, all of these varieties and more are encountered: from ‘brūeghel,’ to ‘brueghel,’ to ‘BRVEGEL’. (This, by the way, is to say nothing about how people outside the Netherlands coped the artist’s name – to Italians, for instance, Bruegel’s Dutch name was not only a bit tricky to spell but also, I guess, difficult to pronounce, and so we find yet more variants: the Bolognese doctor Scipio Fabius, for instance, plumped, in 1561 and again in 1565, for ‘Petrus Bruochl’.)

What this all means, in reality, is that Pieter Bruegel willingly played around with how to spell his own name. In early works, from the 1550s, we find him using variants on the ‘brueghel’ type of signature (lowercase, in italics, often with the “h,” with all sorts of other variations); then, in about 1559, he decided to adopt, with greater consistency than before, the now more familiar form: ‘BRVEGEL’ (usually uppercase, sometimes with the “V” and “E” in ligature, and that pesky “h” now eliminated). Here’s how some of those signatures actually look in a few works by the artist (1. the 1556 drawing for the Big Fish Eat the Little Ones; 2. the 1559 Netherlandish Proverbs; 3. the 1559 drawing of Charity):

B signatures .png

It’s stating the obvious, but what this shows us is that Bruegel couldn’t quite make up his mind when it came to spelling his name and signing his works. Up until about 1559, that is. For from that date, he went as ‘BRVEGEL’. And the reason for this change is a simple one: for ‘BRVEGEL’ has a more Latinate feel than the decidedly Dutch ‘brūeghel‘ and its variants. The signature change was, in other words, about cultivating a particular image: the Latinising, or “Latinisation,” of the name signalling the artist’s social, cultural and intellectual pretensions. (If proof is needed, we can just cast about almost at random in Bruegel’s milieu and find other examples of people doing exactly the same thing: ‘Domenicus Lampsonius,’ to take just one example from Bruegel’s extended circle, is a Latinised version of ‘Dominique Lampsone’.)

That to me seems to be the most plausible explanation of what’s going on here. But, whatever the historical realities are, the ‘is it with the “h” or without’ cliché provided a nice tagline in Jonathan Jones’s recent article in The Guardian on the, in my view ill-conceived, subject of which Brueg[h]el matters; or, put in another way that comes closer to what Jones actually thinks, which Brueg[h]el was any good?

His article was prompted by the upcoming opening at the Holburne Museum in Bath of a new exhibition: Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty, which is the first exhibition ever mounted in the UK on the Brueg[h]el dynasty. I’ll be giving a lecture there in March, on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s (that’s the Bruegel-without-the-“h”’s) Blind Leading the Blind and its copies. Jones, though, doesn’t think that such an exhibition is worth having, for ‘the only Bruegel worth bothering with is the one whose name is spelled without the “h,” ‘ which is to say, Bruegel the Elder. The “other Brueghels,” namely Bruegel’s sons Pieter Brueghel (usually called Pieter the Younger, to distinguish him from the father) and Jan Brueghel (usually called Jan the Elder, or “Velvet Breughel,” to distinguish him from his own son, Jan Brueghel the Younger … ) are, in Jones’s view, second-rate painters, scarcely worthy of being the focus of an entire exhibition. He simply can’t see why ‘British museums and art dealers such as Christies, which staged a Brueghel show in 2014, [are] so obsessed with these lesser painters?,’ the “lesser painters” in question being the Brueghels with the “h”.

As we’ve now seen, it ain’t quite that simple: as I said a moment ago, a bit of pedantry goes a long way, so let’s just remember that the Elder Bruegel also had the “h”. But, the bigger point here concerns Jones’s idea that Bruegel the Elder’s children produced pictures that are inherently or automatically inferior to their faither’s: Bruegel’s genius produced masterpieces; the Brueghels’ servility produced copies, feeble pastiches, or else pretty inoffensive still lifes:

pieter_bruegel_the_elder_1568_the_blind_leading_the_blind

Bruegel without the “h,” Blind Leading the Blind, 1568; Capodimonte Museum, Naples

pieter_brueghel_the_younger-the_parable_of_the_blind

Brueghel with the “h,” Blind Leading the Blind

jan_brueghel_the_elder_-_flowers_in_a_wooden_vessel_-_google_art_project

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Flowers in a Wooden Vessel, 1606/7; Kunsthistorisches, Vienna

This is the sort of thing you will have read years ago. And it was said especially often of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, who, in comparison to his brother Jan (whose originality has never really been questioned), has always tended to be thought of as being a totally uninventive, totally servile imitator and pasticheur of his father’s art. But is that really true? Consensus now is that it’s not: Brueghel with the “h” also produced pictures according to his own capacities of invention and artistry. And what he produced, apparently without recourse to an existing prototype by his father, is, in my view, not only good (whatever good means … ) but is also interesting for all sorts of reasons.

But, be that as it may, we can or should object, I think, to the snobbish dismissal of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s activities as a copyist. All the best artists copy and always have done, and might you not say that Brueghel the Younger’s commercial savvy is something to be applauded: clearly he identified a market demand for Bruegel’s and Bruegelian pictures, which he seized and capitalised on, and clearly made a living for himself. If that makes a man feeble … then …? What’s at stake here, I guess, is how you define greatness in an artist anyway. If absolute originality is the key criteria, then we’re always on shaky ground, because what even is artistic originality, exactly? How is originality defined? And how can we ever be sure that something is absolutely original in the strict sense? (Roland Barthes had thoughts on that matter, on the tyranny of the author-genius’s supposed originality; and even Michelangelo’s inventiveness is best understood as a process of assimilative emulation, according to which he took pre-existing artistic and literary ideas and then put them all together in inventive ways — so, is that originality?) Besides, why can’t commercial success be a marker of greatness? (The idea that art historians should only be interested in seeing greatness in masterpieces produced only by artists who take pride of place among the pantheon of artist geniuses died out, rightly, a long time ago … art history students are habitually taught nowadays to “difference the canon”.)

For me, the lives and works of the Brueghels with the “h” are just as interesting as the life and work of the Bruegel without the “h”. They might be interesting for different reasons; but different, surely, isn’t the same as being “less good than”.

DEPARTMENTAL RESEARCH SEMINAR: 8 FEBRUARY

‘Seurat’s Public’

Professor Alastair Wright (University of Oxford)

Wednesday 8 February
4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre

seurat-cirque-1890

Georges Seurat, Cirque (1890-91)

Abstract:

Taking as its primary focus Seurat’s Cirque (1890-91), my paper examines how the artist’s work imagines the public both as depicted audience and as implied viewer. I assess the claims made by Seurat’s colleagues Paul Signac and Félix Fénéon for a proletarian and politically radical audience before suggesting that the work of another of Seurat’s contemporaries, Stéphane Mallarmé, offers a better model for the painter’s ambivalent invocation of the public. The paper explores aspects of Seurat’s technique and subject-matter and of Mallarmé’s writings on theatre and popular entertainments in relation to the politics of the public sphere under the French Third Republic.

Biographical Information:

Alastair Wright is Associate Professor and Tutorial Fellow in Art History at St John’s College, University of Oxford. His first book, Matisse and the Subject of Modernism, was published by Princeton University Press in 2004. In 2010 he curated an exhibition of Paul Gauguin’s prints at the Princeton University Art Museum. The accompanying catalogue, Gauguin’s Paradise Remembered, examined the role played by reproduction in Gauguin’s understanding of French colonialism in Tahiti. Alastair has published widely on European and non-European modernisms in October, Art History, the Oxford Art Journal, the Art Bulletin, and in various edited volumes and catalogues.

He is currently working on two book projects. The first is a study of the politics of embodied spectatorship in the work of the 19th-century British painter Ford Madox Brown. In the second he is exploring the manifold links between the emergence of modernism in the visual arts and the transformation of the public sphere under the French Third Republic, with a particular emphasis on the work of the Neo-Impressionists.

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter: SET497@student.bham.ac.uk

Art Detective “doing” Bosch.

JAMIE EDWARDS

“There’s so much in him ….” Him being Hieronymus Bosch. True.

Garden 2

Earthly Delights in the 2016 Bosch exhibition

Here’s Waldemar Januszczak being interviewed by the brilliant Janina Ramirez, as part of her Art Detective podcast series, on the subject of Bosch’s so-called Earthly Delights (1480s or 1490s; Prado, Madrid). Worth a listen; it does well, on the whole, to avoid, if not rubbish, some of the nonsense that people have had to say about Bosch, and this particular picture, in the past (including the “crazy idea” that this picture had something to do with Adamites!). It does a good job too to emphasise the basic religious significance of this picture, despite what you might think when you look at it for the first time.

There are some problems, though. It’s not all that exceptional, for instance, that Bosch ended up in the Brotherhood of Our Lady, as this was family tradition. (Though it might be exceptional that Bosch, as a painter, achieved such a senior position: he rapidly rose to the status of sworn brother, a promotion from “ordinary member,” and artists didn’t tend to occupy such an elevated position.) Most problematic, though, is the idea, rehearsed here, that the triptych was an altarpiece (  “… of course it was,” says Januszczak), which was set up in the Brotherhood of Our Lady’s chapel. OK, so a copy — they say here — might later have sat on the altar there ( … though I can’t remember what the evidence is for this? is there any? don’t think there is); and it is a triptych. But neither of those things mean that the original was an altarpiece.

For a start, not all triptychs were altarpieces; that’s the kind of assumption that led to the bonkers Adamites theory. (Put simply, that theory arose because if the triptych is assumed to have been an altarpiece, then it follows that it can’t really have sat on a Christian altar, can it? Sorry: the imagery just doesn’t fit there, for this image bears no sensible correlation with what actually goes on at a Christian altar …. So people went scurrying about to find alternative “altars”. Cue: the Adamites, whose altar, adorned with Bosch’s picture, presided over all the orgiastic sex. Err ….)

Any anyway, more compellingly, all the evidence — and when we’re dealing with Bosch, evidence is a rare commodity so should be seized upon whenever it’s available — suggests that the triptych was commissioned by a “local noble” for a domestic, albeit very grand, setting. That noble was Count Engelbrecht II of Nassau.

The triptych is first documented in the Nassau Palace of Coudenberg in Brussels in 1517: it was seen there by Antonio de Beatis (see, if you can, Gombrich, ‘The Earliest Description of Bosch’s Garden of Delight,’ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 30 (1967); Steppe, ‘Jheronimus Bosch. Bijdrage tot de historische … ,’ in Steppe (ed.), Jheronimus Bosch … (1967) ). At that time, in 1517, the triptych was in the possession of Count Henry III of Nassau-Breda, Engelbrecht’s nephew (the latter died in 1504 without direct legitimate heirs, so his property went to Henry). Current thinking is that Engelbrecht commissioned the triptych in the 1480s or 1490s (though disagreement reigns over which decade it was). Neatly, we do know that Engelbrecht visited ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 1481, to attend the 14th Chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece; and coincidentally, the first time that we find Bosch mentioned as a painter in his own right in the surviving documentation comes from that very year, when “Joen the Painter” sold shares in the Bosch family house at ‘s-Hertogenbosch to his older brother Goessen. Engelbrecht visited again in 1496, in the entourage of Philip the Fair. (The latter, we know as a matter of fact, was a patron of Bosch’s: in 1504, presumably with Engelbrecht once more in tow, Philip the Fair was in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and asked Bosch to produce a large triptych for him showing the Last Judgement. Inevitably — though not necessarily — this leads to speculation that Engelbrecht might have suggested to Philip that Bosch was an artist to be aware of!) And given that the Nassau owned a property nearby at Breda, we can guess that Engelbrecht, as well as Henry, actually visited ‘s-Hertogenbosch quite regularly, for business as well as pleasure.

The Prado endorses this view concerning Engelbrecht’s likely patronage, as did the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP Catalogue Raisonné, 2016). Not least this is because the triptych’s provenance can be traced from Engelbrecht-Henry Nassau into the possession of Phillip II of Spain, and, by extension, from there into the Prado in 1933. (Incidentally, it’s worth noting that when Phillip sent the triptych to the monastery of El Escorial, in 1593, it was not placed in a religious setting there either … it was placed instead in the royal apartments, in the Gallery of the Infanta.)

Januszczak surely knows this story about the triptych’s provenance: after all, displayed in the very same room as the Earthly Delights in the 2016 Prado exhibition was a portrait of the triptych’s likely patron, Engelbrecht, done in the 1480s by the so-called Master of the Princely Portraits. (You can just about make this out in photograph above, in the display cabinet.)

So, good and interesting podcast. But let’s not forget the evidence.

** Shameful plug, and tenuous link, alert: the podcast mentions Bruegel, and in case you’re interested, I’m giving a lecture about Bruegel at the Holburn Museum in Bath on March 22, to coincide with their exhibition Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty. More here.

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