CFP: Session at RSA: Exhibiting Art before the Salon: The Makings of a Practice in Early Modern Europe(Philadelphia, 2-4 Apr 2020)

While art exhibitions play an increasingly important role in recent studies of modern and contemporary art, the long-term history of the exhibition has received relatively little scholarly attention. Standard histories of the art exhibition begin with the foundation of the Paris Salon, often presented as an institution linked with the liberalization of the arts and the emergence of art criticism in the 18th century. Yet Francis Haskell, Georg Friedrich Koch, and others have located many crucial precedents in earlier centuries, while Thomas Crow has shown how the complex dynamics of exhibiting art in Ancien Régime society extended across many different arenas of public life. Building on their work, this panel explores what it would mean to expand the early history of the exhibition beyond the Salon.

Such an expansion gives rise to many methodological questions. Is it really possible to distinguish the “art exhibition” from the great panoply of circumstances in which early modern art was displayed in public, from shop fronts and markets to court ceremonies and liturgical festivals? How did the public display of canonical “artistic” media like painting and sculpture relate to the display of other specialty items, such as luxury goods, “exotic” imports, or recently unearthed antiquities? Did the traditional ritual and liturgical settings of art already at times perform certain functions of the art exhibition as we know it? To what extent does the function of an exhibition depend on its broader institutional setting, as for example when we distinguish the exhibitions of the early art academies from the presentation of a chef d’oeuvre in contemporary guilds? Do early modern primary sources have specific terms and concepts for “art exhibitions,” and should we, as historians, refrain from discussing “exhibitions” until they do? When and how do exhibitions come to change the career path of early modern artists, as narrated, for example, in early modern artistic biographies? Is there a direct relationship between early exhibition practices and the emergence of new genres of art writing?

We welcome proposals for papers that address these or related issues in European art between the 14th and 18th centuries. Applications may be written in English, French, or Italian, and should include a proposal of no longer than 500 words along with a short bio-bibliography (10 lines).
Please send materials to Olivier Bonfait ( and Robert Brennan ( by August 6.