CFP: Collecting and the Peripheries / The Collection as Laboratory, apply by 2 June

Call for Papers: Collecting and the Peripheries / The Collection as Laboratory. Sessions at RSA (Chicago, 30 Mar-1 Apr 2017), apply on or before 2 June 2016.

Renaissance Society of America (RSA) 2017 Conference, Chicago, The Palmer House Hilton, March 30 – April 1, 2017

Contributor: Adriana Turpin

When scholars of the early modern period started to focus on (princely) collections in the 1980s, they often concentrated on Italy as the epicentre of cultural development and progress. The courts of Florence, Rome, Urbino or Ferrara were regarded as hubs of collecting, while the rest of Europe either seemed not to care very much (England and Spain) or was too poor and uncivilised (large parts of Germany and Eastern Europe) to follow the Italian example. Even though recent studies have started to investigate collections built and displayed in the peripheries, much of the research conducted these days still underwrites a supposed Italian supremacy. Nonetheless, we know that even a place such as Florence picked up fashions in collecting, in palace building and in interior architecture from other courts north and south of the Alps as well as from the East and West. A main issue to be investigated is, therefore, that of hubs and peripheries and whether any such division has ever been as clear-cut as has long been assumed.

Another issue is the question of models and trendsetters. In particular, the multi-cultural Holy Roman Empire, bringing together traditions from Burgundy, Spain and from the Austrian Habsburg territories among others, offers a multitude of collections, examples of multinational collectibles, as well as some of the earliest theoretical writings on the subject. Nevertheless, when collections from the empire are discussed, as happens more often now, they are usually compared to other examples from the North of Europe or seen as second-rate followers of the fashions at Italian courts.

Rather than continuing a traditional view of Europe separated into cultural donors and receivers, we expect to renegotiate long-standing certainties. Therefore, we invite proposals of 150 words that focus on clusters or networks of exchange, favour a multinational, multiconfessional and multidisciplinary approach to the rise and development of early modern collections and seek to establish new ways of defining models and trendsetters, as well as centres and peripheries.

The Collection as Laboratory

During the sixteenth century, collectors became interested in increasingly varied types of objects. Whereas in many studioli, the display was intended to invite comparisons between antiquities and contemporary works of the art, in other collections the aim was to present the relationships and even rivalries between artificialia and naturalia. A concern with man’s ingenuity was an important element in such new collections, as has been studied in relation to such well-known sixteenth century collections in Florence, or Munich or somewhat later in Prague. Horst Bredekamp observed that ‘the idea of using the collection as an active laboratory rather than a passive collection corresponded to the Promethean practice, perceiving the actions of collecting, researching and constructing the collection as a unit.’  The collector could thus be not just an acquisitor but also a creator. He could himself develop the skills to create complex works of art, the knowledge and skill to practice ivory turning for example; he could bring together scientists and mathematicians to explore the universe, and put to use instruments within the collection. Techniques and new methods of manufacture were also related to objects in the collection.

The aim of this session is to explore the collection as a laboratory of scientific investigation and the pursuit of knowledge, whether through the creation or the use of the objects collected. Although there has been considerable attention given to the development of the kunst and wunderkammer collection, the impact of these in terms of manufacture and impetus for scientific development has been more limited to a few well-known examples. We would encourage the presentation of papers  by researchers in the history of science, history of manufacture or collecting. We would also encourage the presentation of material over a broad geographic base, from the lesser-known Italian and German collections to other European collections. Although the time frame is essentially that of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, papers that cover these sites of knowledge at other times are welcome. We hope through the exploration of a variety of collections, to bring a richer understanding of the collection as the nexus of curiosity and skill.

If you wish to contribute to these discussions, please send your abstract of c. 300 words and your CV (in accordance with the guidelines set out here) to on or before 2 June 2016.