In his influential book on painting and visual culture in fifteenth-century Italy (Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy, 1972), Michael Baxandall described the abandonment of gold in painting practices as a sensitive phenomenon both in contracts between painters and patrons, and in the writings of some authoritative art theorists.
Deadline: 1 Mar 2022
He linked this attitude to a more general movement on a European scale, consisting of the decline of some practices of display, for example the fashion for clothes embellished with precious materials such as gold. He also suggested a correlation between with the shortage of gold in fifteenth-century Europe or the growing interest in the painter’s maestria at the expense of the preciousness of the materials. Although gold backgrounds gradually disappeared from Western European painting – mainly during the fifteenth century – and art theorists condemned the use of this material, gold was not completely abandoned in practice, as shown by certain artworks produced by painters as innovative as Rembrandt and Vermeer in the middle of the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, the question of the subsequent use of gold has not been a major focus of early modern art historians, who have instead sought to refine Baxandall’s vision by examining the disappearance of gold backgrounds in the fifteenth century in the two main artistic areas of the time: the Low Countries and the Italian Peninsula.
Fifty years after Baxandall’s work, this symposium aims to investigate, in an interdisciplinary way, the place of gold in Western European societies during the Renaissance. As a material, gold has played an important role in the cultural and economic history of Europe and the world, in the history of science, and also in the historiography of the ‘material turn’ in art, as shown by several transchronological syntheses published in recent years [Venable 2011; Zorach & Phillips 2016]. Museums have not been left out of this renewed interest in the various uses and meanings of gold: one need only think of the exhibition that the Mucem organised in 2018 [Bouiller 2018], or the numerous physico-chemical analyses carried out on ancient artworks in research laboratories in France (e.g. C2RMF) and abroad, particularly in London (at the National Gallery).
On the basis of these recent achievements, we will focus on a limited area (Western Europe), albeit one connected to the rest of the world, and a given time (especially the period from 1450 to 1520).
The aim of the conference is therefore to explore:
-The economic history of gold and what the heritage science can say about it. Which deposits of the metal were exploited at that time? What is the current state of knowledge of monetary history in Western Europe at the end of the fifteenth century? How can we characterise the origin of the gold in a work of art?
-The social history of gold. Can we speak of a symbolism linked to this material at that time? What are the myths associated with it (the alchemical quest, Eldorado, etc.)? What place does gold have in sumptuary legislation?
-The taste for gold (e.g. in treasures, domestic interiors, sacred spaces, etc.) and the position of civic and ecclesiastical authorities with regard to this precious metal.
-Learned and practical knowledge: metallurgy, alchemical practices, humanist thinking.
-The craftsmen who worked with gold (e.g. goldsmiths, gold beaters, gilders) and their regulations.
-Its artistic uses (goldsmithing, sculpture, illumination, engraving, tapestry, painting, etc.).
-The techniques for using this material as they can be reconstituted today by the physical and chemical sciences, as well as the techniques for restoring the gilding of a few artworks from this period, including the Isenheim Altarpiece (around 1515), which is currently undergoing restoration in Colmar (Musée Unterlinden).
We are inviting papers in all relevant disciplines.
Abstract submission and deadlines
Please submit your abstract of 300 words with a short biography to Romain Thomas (email@example.com), Valentina Hristova (firstname.lastname@example.org), Christine Andraud (email@example.com), Anne-Solenn Le Hô (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 1 March 2022. Notification of acceptance will be given around 15 March 2022.
– Prof. Christine ANDRAUD (Professor of Physics (Optics), CRC/CNRS/MNHN)
– Dr. Valentina HRISTOVA (Post-doctoral Fellow in Early Modern Art History, Fondation des Sciences du Patrimoine and HAR, University Paris Nanterre)
– Dr. Anne-Solenn LE HO (Research Engineer in Physical Chemistry, C2RMF/CNRS)
– Dr. Romain THOMAS (Lecturer in Early Modern Art History, HAR, University Paris Nanterre)
-Prof. Erma HERMENS (Professor, Director of the Hamilton Kerr Institute and Deputy Director for Conservation and Heritage Research of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge University)
-Dr Julien LUGAND (Lecturer in Early Modern Art History, CRESEM, Université de Perpignan Via Domitia)
-Prof. Philippe SENECHAL (Professor in Early Modern Art History, Université de Picardie Jules Verne)
-Dr Laurent-Henri VIGNAUD (Lecturer in Early Modern History, LIR3S, Université de Bourgogne)
-Prof. Alison WRIGHT (Professor in Italian Art c. 1300-1550, University College London)
-Prof. Rebecca ZORACH (Mary Jane Crowe Professor in Art and Art History, Northwestern University)