Mobility/Exchange

Creativity frequently springs from the movement of people, ideas, and objects across frontiers and boundaries and into places deemed new, foreign, strange, or remote.  These encounters produce highly charged, often violent, contact zones, stimulating the desire to collect, to map, to trade, and to possess. We investigate the things that result from such encounters and the ways in which these things affect the people who make, recreate, and use them.

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Mobility/Exchange

    • Crivelli, Boston MFA
    • Crivelli 1
    • Porto San Giorgio
    • Restoration Lab 2
    • Restoration Lab 1
    • Restoration Lab
    Crivelli, Boston MFA

    Figure 1. Carlo Crivelli, Deposition. Ca. 1485. Boston, MFA. 

     

    1010 Boston Field Trip

    Boston report

     

    Now that the semester has finally come to an end, I’ve had a chance to recover and wanted to bring you all up to speed on the special opportunity that I had with my 1010. The course was titled Venetian Renaissance Art: Local Histories, Global Stakes. One major theme that I tried to highlight in the class was the issue of mobility – how artists traveled through the Venetian empire, and even beyond it into the Ottoman world. One artist that I had planned to use to highlight this point was Carlo Crivelli. He is an amazing painter from the fifteenth century. The quick description that makes him intelligible to smart people outside of the field of Med/Ren art history is to say that he straddles the border between what we generally recognizes as “medieval” (gold ground, lots of pastiglia, etc.) and “Renaissance” painting (perspective, sophisticated tonal modulation, the use of some oil binders, etc.). He’s an interesting fellow (read the footnote if you want some details).[i]

     

    In October the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opened the first-ever exhibition of Crivelli’s work in the United States. The exhibition promised to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see his paintings together, and since the exhibition aligned so well with the objectives of my class, I petitioned Dean Twyning for funding to take my seminar to Boston. The Dean’s office generously supported my proposal, and I organized what I hope will be a memorable trip for my students.

     

    We departed for Boston on 19 November and stayed through the evening of the 21st. We arrived late on Thursday night and stayed in a hotel near the Gardner. Our “work” began on Friday morning when we met Nat Silver, who is an Assistant Curator at the ISGM. He was responsible for the installation of the show. Nat was great – not only did he let us into the exhibition before the museum opened to the public, but he spent nearly three hours with my class walking us through the exhibition. Crivelli’s paintings are amazing, but they can often be very “dense,” and it was wonderful to have someone help my students see the myriad techniques that Crivelli used in each painting. I particularly remember the conversation that took place in front of this painting, which is from the Boston MFA (figure 1). Nat was a great interlocutor, and pushed the students to identify the many ways that Crivelli deploys gold: in his hands gold isn’t merely the ground onto which figures are applied, but it is also used almost as though it were a pigment to construct the volume and give form. Nat was able to help us see at least five different ways in which Crivelli deploys gold leaf in this painting: the gold ground is exquisitely worked with punch tools; gold is spread throughout the Magdalene’s hair (Christ’s as well, though to a lesser extent); the pastiglia of the Magdalene’s sleeve is gold leaf laid on top of plaster; the cloth of honor in back is gold leaf that has been painted over with black pigment to make it seem like a rich brocade; the red cloth of honor in the foreground is similar in effect but different in technique, as is the fictive marble parapet, which is accented with gold leaf.

     

    With Crivelli, the sheer physicality of painting comes into sharp focus. I’d prepared the students by taking them to the Renaissance gallery of the CMOA where we looked at the painting by an artistic “cousin” of Crivelli. In the CMOA I shared two secrets with the students: 1) paintings don’t bite, and 2) you’ll always look smart if you crouch in front of a painting. I was very happy that Nat and I were on the same page. He had the students standing, kneeling squatting… adopting every posture imaginable in order to better understand the paintings (figure 2). How light glints off the gold leaf can tell you a lot about the technique that Crivelli used. As Nat repeatedly made clear, Crivelli demands an active beholder.

     

    Nat was also able to talk to our students about the practical aspects of organizing an exhibition like this. One of the major “gets” of the exhibition was to reunite all of the panels of the Porto San Giorgio altarpiece in one place. However, the curators decided not to reconstruct the altarpiece. Had they reconstructed the polyptych, the top panel of the painting would have been about 10 feet off the ground, making it almost impossible to examine in a detailed way. So they elected to show the painting individually and offered a photographic reconstruction of the polyptych on the adjacent wall (figure 3). Nat is a young but very experienced curator, so it was very heartening to have him talk to the students. He was able to offer some insight and encouragement to the many students who want to pursue a career in museums.

     

    After a quick trip through the permanent collection of the ISGM, we broke for lunch. We then reconvened across the street at the Museum of Fine Arts. We were met by Frederick Ilchman who is the Chair of the Art of Europe at the MFA. Frederick had arranged an incredible visit for my students. First we went to the MFA’s “Conservation in Action” lab – this is a sort of fishbowl conservation lab, where the public can get a look at what the MFA is working on. We were fortunate to be able to go into the laboratory, where we met Caitlin Breare, the conservator in charge of the Monopoli Altarpiece Project. The project centers on a fifteenth-century polyptych produced in Crete, which was then a Venetian colony, for export to Southern Italy. It is a truly “Mediterranean” painting. Caitlin offered us an incredible look at the work that a conservator does, from evaluating the stability of the object to making decisions (in consultation with curators) about what to fix, etc. She walked us through all of the evidence that they have gathered, explaining how one interprets different kinds of visual evidence, like UV scans, IRR, and x-rays (figures 4 & 5). This was a wonderful experience for the students who hope to pursue careers in museums.

     

    I must say that our time in the lab was also a bit strange, since the entire time we were in the conservation lab one couldn’t help but notice the enormous painting by Benjamin West, Devout Men Taking the Body of St. Stephen, which loomed in the background (figure 6). That painting is enormous – almost 20 feet tall. In order to work on it, they’ve laid it on its side and it is definitely disconcerting to see a painting of that size laying on its side. It was useful for the students to see this alienating perspective on a painting – occasionally priceless works of art get treated like any other object.

     

    The day concluded with a visit to the MFA’s Renaissance galleries with the chief curator of European art (figure 7). Frederick shared with us some of his favorite works in the collection, and was able to walk us through the process of develop an international loan exhibition (of which he has done many) from start to finish. This was an illuminating conversation, and it was a nice way to conclude the day. By the end of the day the students were very tired – we’d started at 10am and didn’t finish with Frederick until almost 7pm. But it was absolutely worth it. They were then free to go explore Boston and fill themselves on lobster rolls. The students were very well behaved… at least as far as I know!

     

    The next day the students had time to return to the MFA and the ISGM and to visit them on their own. I gave them one assignment, which was to engage in a “slow looking” exercise with an object of their choice (from any period, any medium). This meant picking an object and dwelling with it for thirty minutes. Once back in Pittsburgh, they had to write a brief paper in response to that experience. Those papers were perhaps the most gratifying assignments I’ve ever read.

     

    The trip required a lot of organization, but the payoff was immense. The students had a chance to look at art in person. Throughout the weekend I tried to spend at least a few minutes with each student looking at a work of art, and those moments were unforgettable. It was fantastic to see the students drawing on the reservoir of knowledge that we’d been building throughout the semester. I’ll certainly never forget this trip, and I hope that it will stay with my students as well.

     

    I must extend a special thanks to Nat and Frederick for their exceptional generosity. The trip would simply not have been possible without the financial support of Dean Twyning, to whom my students and me owe our most sincere gratitude.

     

     

     

    [i] Crivelli was born in Venice and learned to paint there and in Padua (he was probably a “classmate” of Andrea Mantegna in the “school of Squarcione”). He then went back to Venice and began painting. He was a colorful character, and in 1457 he was sentenced to six months in jail for having had an affair with a married woman (the legal documents state that he “abducted her from the house of her brother-in-law and kept her hidden for many months, having carnal relations with her in utter disregard of God and the sacred bonds of marriage”). After that he traveled around quite a bit and spent a few years in Croatia. Around the end of the 1460s he set up for good in the Marche, a completely “provincial” part of Italy, somewhere around the Achilles tendon of the boot. His choice to work there really took him out of the “mainstream” of Italian art – Vasari and all of the early historians of art essentially ignored him. His career was only reconstructed through documents in the 19th century. But essentially all of the paintings he made are signed, and most of them are signed Karoli Crivelli Veneti, meaning that he was really insistent upon being identified as a Venetian artists even though he was nowhere near Venice.

     

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Undergraduate Work
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    Lamenting Lord Elgin

    Today is my last day working on the Itinera database until my presentation tomorrow.  While gearing up for the end of the semester, let's take a moment to look back at the unfortunate life of Thomas Bruce.

    Thomas Bruce suffered from asthma throughout his life, so under his doctor's orders, he doused his face with mercury for his frequent lung complaints.  Medical treatment in the 1700s certainly is not what it is today. The mercury caused abrasions on his nose, which prompted doctors to cut off the tip of it, disfiguring Bruce's face.

    In August 1803, Bruce was traveling with his wife, Mary Nisbet, and got detained by the French in Bareges, because he was a British ambassador with a travel schedule that coincided with the Napoleonic Wars.  From there, he was eventually sent to prison at Lourdes.  While he was incarcerated, Nisbet was allowed to leave France, accompanied by a man named Robert Fergusson.  The two were secretly engaged in an affair, and Fergusson would go on trial in May of 1808 for adultry.

    In 1816, facing bankruptcy, Bruce sold his prized marbles to the British Museum.  He said that the marbles were worth about £75,000 (roughly $111,360), but the museum bought them for £35,000 (about $51,950).  Needless to say, he was not happy about the sale.

    Between his cheating wife, partial nose and massive debt, Bruce was not a happy person.  Because he bought the marbles and messed with Greek culture, people still don't like him after his death.  And they certainly don't pity him.  He will always be remembered as the man who brought antique culture to Britian, but at the expense of ancient Greek identity.

     

    The picture, of Thomas Bruce with his full nose, is courtesy of http://www.athensguide.com/elginmarbles/photos/elgin.JPG

    For more information, check out these books:

    Nagel, Susan. Mistress of the Elgin Marbles: A Biography of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin. New York: William Morrow, 2004. Print.

    Vrettos, Theodore. The Elgin Affair: The Abduction of Antiquity's Greatest Treasures and the Passions It Aroused. New York: Arcade Pub., 1997. Print.

    Categories: 
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
  •  

    Itinera Got An Upgrade

    We reworked Itinera because it was glitching on some tour stops for agents.  Now that it's been updated, all the tour stops are functioning, and it looks a lot nicer.  This is great because coincidentally, my FE-R presentation is next week.

    Today, I finished up all the goals that we were trying to achieve with inputting the Parthenon Marbles into Itinera.  All the sculptures are linked to each other, the people are linked to each other and (hopefully) I inputted all the relevant data.  I've done a lot of mouse-clicking in the past couple months, and I'm happy that we've been able to complete so much for this project!

    Next week, I'll be able to go back into Itinera and fix anything that I missed.  I'm relieved that I finished most of the programming today, because I was a little nervous that I wouldn't be able to input all the Marbles in time.

    Photo courtesy of the new Itinera site: https://itinera.pitt.edu

    Categories: 
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
  •  

    Why the Parthenon Marbles are Controversial

    Last week, I got into the story surrounding Thomas Bruce and the Parthenon Marbles.  Now, let me tell you about the controversial past (and present) of these artifacts.

    As I mentioned, Bruce had to get a firman from the Ottoman authorities in order for his workers, including Giovanni Battista Lusieri and William Richard Hamilton, to continue sketching the Acropolis in Athens.  He eventually got this letter of permission in early 1801, and the document was deemed official by July 1.  However, due to transnational tensions that culminated into the Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815), government paperwork and rules at the turn of the century were a little murky.  This led to a disagreement on the true owners of the Parthenon Marbles.  People who want the Marbles to stay in London say that Bruce obtained the firman with the full knowledge and permission of the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Greece at the time, so his actions were completely legal.  But people who want the Marbles returned to Greece say that the Marbles should be replaced to their homeland, stating that Bruce illegally stole the Marbles during Greece's Turkish occupation.

    Bruce removed the Marbles between 1800 -1811, but then sold them to the British Museum in 1816 because he was facing debt.  Controversy about the Marbles was reintroduced in 1925 when a newspaper argued that Greece should be able to reclaim the Marbles.  Today, why do people care about the movement of the Marbles if it happened almost 200 years ago?  In October 2014, the London-based lawyer/activist/author Amal Clooney said that Greece had "just cause" for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.  So even today, the plot thickens.

    Why does this even matter?  Well, the controversy about the Parthenon Marbles is important for a couple of reasons.  Pro-London supporters say that the Marbles are "an important representation of ancient Athenian civilization in the context of world history" and they give "maximum public benefit" to the people of England, so it is more important that they should stay in London than go back to Athens.  To these supporters, the Marbles represent a moment in antiquity and continue to emphasize the ancient Athenian culture to the modern public.  Pro-Athens supporters say that the Marbles are an important symbol of the whole nation's heritage - in the present, not just in antiquity - and they should be returned for the sake of national pride.

    The significance of the Parthenon Marbles is completely defined by society, meaning that people assign importance to these ancient sculptures.  These artifacts are symbolic of an all-but-lost ancient culture, and if Greece ever gets the Marbles back, the nation will have to reevaluate their cultural significance in a modern context.

    In late March, Greece requested the return of the Parthenon Marbles for the second time.  The British Museum turned down the request, and it is unlikely that the Marbles will be returning to Athenian soil anytime soon.

    Check out these sources if you're interested in learning more about the controversy about the Parthenon Marbles:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11274713/Why-are-the-Elgin-marble...

    http://greece.greekreporter.com/2015/03/27/double-rejection-for-partheno...

     

    Photo courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/14/amal-alamuddin-advis...

    Categories: 
    • Temporalities
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
  •  

    HA&A Graduate Student Trip to the College Art Association Annual Conference

    With generous support from the Dean of Graduate Studies, ten HA&A graduate students (Maria Castro, Nicole Coffineau, Clarisse Fava-Piz, Annika Johnson, Isaac King, Colleen O’Reilly, Ben Ogrodnik, Nicole Scalissi, Krystle Stricklin, and Marina Tyquiengco) traveled to New York to conduct individual research and attend the annual conference of the College Arts Association. In a colloquium on March 25th, these students discussed their research, their newly acquired tools and knowledge, and the presence of the constellations at CAA.

    Attached is the slideshow from their discussion which includes some resources and potential jumping off points for further discussion in the department.

     

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
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    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
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  •  

    The Marbles Go to London

    I'm still inputting data about the Elgin Marbles (now we're calling them the 'Parthenon Marbles') into Itinera.  For your intellectual curiosity, let me educate you a little bit about the international controversy that surrounds these ancient marbles statues.

    The artist Phidias sculpted the Parthenon Marbles as decoration for the Parthenon in Athens, Greece between ca. 447 - 438 BCE.  However, although Athens was once a leading city, it diminished into a sketchy, decrepit neighborhood with a far-off a history of grandeur.  By the time Lord Elgin (also known as the ambassador, Thomas Bruce) became interested in the Marbles, Athens was already in tatters.  His interest was sparked by the decorative Marbles, and he told his secretary, William Richard Hamilton, to check out the Marbles in July 1800.  Hamilton also brought along the artist Giovanni Battista Lusieri and a group of other artists to draw the statues at the Acropolis, including the Parthenon Marbles.

    This was all in the early 1800s, when tensions were brewing around Europe because of the Napoleonic Wars.  So in February 1801, Bruce's artists were denied entrace to the Acropolis because of paranoia that the French would attack Turkey after the invasion of Egypt.  Unless Bruce could send a firman, or letter of permission, to the Athenian government allowing the artist to have access to the Marbles, they were finished.

    After some procrastination, Bruce requested a firman at the Porte in Athens, Greece, which became (debatably) official by July 1801.  The firman granted the artists access to the Marbles, and Bruce also threw in a clause stating that the artists had permission to move the Parthenon Marbles from Athens to London, England.

    Next week, I'll post about the controversy that surrounds the Parthenon Marbles.  Stay tuned!

    Categories: 
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
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    Inputting into Itinera

    As I mentioned in a previous post, my next step in Itinera is to input my Elgin Marbles-related information into the database.  So far, I'm actually pretty efficient at this part.

    In Itinera, I'm submitting info for agents (people), tours (their lives), and tour stops (places they visited).  Right now, the main people whom I'm dealing with are Thomas Bruce (Lord Elgin), Mary Nisbet (his wife) and Giovanni Battista Lusieri (artist comissioned to draw the Marbles).  There are a couple more people involved, but those are some of the more central actors.  After I'm finished with the people and their lives, I'll be able to input information about the Marbles themselves.

    Everything in Itinera is connected - it is a digital web of art historical information.  Everything has to be precisely submitted step-by-step, and I frequently have to go back into the database to make sure that all the information is recorded correctly.  It's tedious and a little bit frustrating, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.

    However, I am a little concerned about the timing.  My FE-R presentation is in about four weeks, and I'm worried that we'll run into more problems as we try to submit the Marbles (which will be called 'objects' in Itinera).  I'm almost finished with inputting all the agents, tours and tour stops, so luckily, completing that won't take too much time out of next week.  Then I can spend the rest of the day entirely devoted to putting the Marbles in Itinera.  Jen and I have gone through my spreadsheet and identified about 20 sculptures or fragments of the Elgin Marbles that are ready to be put into the database.  Then it's just a matter of if Itinera will organize them correctly.

    At the same time, that still means that there are over 100 fragments in the British Museum alone that I won't get a chance to put in Itinera before the semester is over.  I know that this database is a work in progress and we will be adding info to it for quite some time, but I wish that I had more time in the Visual Media Lab to finish up this project before the semester ends at the end of April.

    Categories: 
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Populations
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
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    Hey, Art Historians! Interested in learning more about copyright issues in your work??

    CAA has produced the pamphlet, "Code of Best Practices for Fair Use for the Visual Arts." It is clear, concise, and direct. Do read it!

    It's attached below, and it's also on the Internet here: http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/fair-use/best-practices-fair-use-visual-arts.pdf

    Categories: 
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    • Visual Knowledge
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    The Future of the Elgin Marbles in Itinera

    This week, just about all of the known Elgin Marbles have been submitted into a spreadsheet as preparation for Itinera.  However, we're having a couple problems with actually inputting the Marbles, and there are some issues with organizing other museums that are not the British Museum:

    1) We need to get permission from the British Museum to use their cataloged photographs of the Elgin Marbles.  This museum has the largest portion of the Elgin collection, and they also have the most accurate and thorough metadata for our purposes with Itinera.  Until then, we'll be finding images on the internet that we can use without having to ask for permission.

    2) We're still figuring out how we are exactly going to input the Marbles into Itinera.  We need to figure out how we're going to organize the metopes, the friezes and any other larger portions of the Marbles within the database.  Some portions of the Marbles, like the west pediment figures, are individual, so those will be easier to input into Itinera.  But the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum have different ways of categorizing the Marbles, so it will be more difficult to submit them both into Itinera since they use different units to divide up the Marbles.  There's more information about the Marbles at the British Museum or the Louvre than at the Acropolis Museum or any of the other museums that have Marble fragments, so organizing the Marbles at these other museums presents more of a challenge.

    Starting after spring break (3/18), I'll begin submitting information from my spreadsheet into Itinera.  I'll start with the people whom I've researched (Lord Elgin, Mary Nisbet, etc.) and work my way through some of the individual figures and fragments from the west pediment.  At the very least, there will be lots of traveling going on around the Marbles, at least through Turkey, England and a little bit of Russia.  Let's hope I'm better at programming the second time around.

    Categories: 
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
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    Where the Elgin Marbles Were In February

    For the time being, I know where the Elgin Marbles have been and how they traveled around Europe for all research purposes.  This information is sitting in a spreadsheet in my Google Drive, organized by sculpture number, location, donor, etc.  All this information, that is, for the 120 Elgin fragments in the British Musuem.

    For the past two weeks, I've been organizing the metadata of the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum.  This is a long and tedious process because it requires me to comb through museum catalogs to find information and pictures (when possible) for these artifacts.  Now that I've finished categorizing the pieces at the British Museum, I have to do the same thing for the Marble fragments in France, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Russia and Greece.  Oh my!

    After organizing the Elgin Marbles' metadata, I will input this information into Itinera itself.  

    Most of the Elgin Marbles are in the British Museum, but a large portion of the Marbles are still in Athens, Greece.  The Musée du Louvre and the Vatican Museums house Marble fragments, and there are many Marbles at the National Museum in Copenhagen and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, according to my research.  Still, a lot of the Marbles live in the University Museum in Würzburg and the Glyptothek in Munich.  Earlier in December and January, the British Museum also lent a statue that was believed to be a representation of Ilissos to the St. Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum in Russia.  So, the Elgin Marbles are pretty spread out throughout Europe.

    Recording the metadata for the Elgin Marbles is tedious and rote - it takes hours to find the metadata and file it away for future use.  The goal is to have all this information prepped and ready so that it can go into Itinera by the end of the semester.  Seeing as it's taken me two weeks to file just the information for the British Museum, this is a lofty goal, but it is a goal nevertheless.

    However, like I mentioned before, a great deal of the Marbles are at the British Museum, so then here are fewer fragments in these other museums.  Theoretically, it should be much quicker to organize the rest of this information, so let's see how this goes.

    Categories: 
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
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