CAA Distinguished Scholar: Jules David Prown

Posted in books, the 18th century in the news by Editor on November 20, 2009

Jules David Prown, a devoted teacher of the history of American art and material culture and Paul Mellon Professor Emeritus of the History of Art at Yale University, has been selected as the CAA Distinguished Scholar for 2010. A special session in his honor will be held at the CAA annual conference in Chicago on 11 February 2010.

Bryan Wolf, professor of American art and culture at Stanford University, underscores the importance of Prown’s work in an essay for CAA, available through the association’s website:

John Singleton Copley, "Samuel Adams," ca. 1772 (Boston: MFA)

His remarkable career marks the coming of age of American art history. His two-volume study of the painter John Singleton Copley (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966) overturned the usual concerns of positivistic biography. His growing focus during the next several decades on the formal properties of objects, together with what he termed the system of cultural “belief” embedded within them, led to a methodological revolution that still resonates loudly in classrooms wherever American art and material culture are taught. . . .

Scholarship on American art in the 1960s tended to divide into two camps: those eager to claim an “American exceptionalism” for artists of virtually all eras of American history, and those determined to prove the former wrong, largely by tracing the European antecedents for traits otherwise labeled “American.” Prown’s two-volume Copley book, which grew from his dissertation on English Copley, coincided with the catalogue he authored for a comprehensive exhibition of Copley’s work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Prown’s approach to Copley was to replace what in fact was a cold-war battle over American exceptionalism with science and statistics. He used a computer—I believe that he was the first art historian to do so—to “analyze data on 240 of Copley’s American sitters, correlating such factors as religion, gender, occupation, place of residence, politics, age, marital status, wealth, size of canvas, date, and medium.” An early paper he presented at CAA describing the project began with a slide of an IBM punch card. The audience “hissed,” as Prown later recounted, albeit with humorous intent. “The chairman of my department at the time advised me to remove the computer-analysis section from my book manuscript because its publication would jeopardize my chances for tenure.”

Yale UP, 2002 ($60)

The Copley book provided readers with a magisterial overview of this painter as a citizen of the British trans-Atlantic. Prown’s vision deftly sidestepped both sides of the American exceptionalism debate by insisting—decades before transnationalism would emerge as a focus of scholarly studies—on the complicated and hybrid relations between English-speaking cultures on either side of the Atlantic. . . .

For Wolf’s complete article (also available in the November 2009 issue of CAA News), click here»

Media & Theology Conference in Los Angeles

Posted in conferences (to attend) by Editor on November 20, 2009

The following two-day conference deals mainly with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though the stakes could also bear on eighteenth-century studies. From the Clark Memorial Library website:

Cultures of Communication, Theologies of Media in Early Modern Europe and Beyond: Theology as Media Theory
Clark Memorial Library, UCLA, Los Angeles, 4-5 December 2009

Organized by Christopher Wild and Ulrike Strasser; registration deadline is 25 November 2009.

The early modern period has long been recognized as a time of revolutionary change in the uses of media and forms of communication. Much attention has been focused on the history of print and the book in particular. Without questioning the importance of this technology- and book-oriented perspective, this series of conferences considers print media alongside a range of other media with which they interacted (“multimediality”) and re-approaches the history of media in early modern Europe from an original and timely perspective. It resists the technological focus and teleological pull of the Gutenberg galaxy and concentrates instead on the powerful religious and theological currents informing communication and media. We suggest that the history of media in early modern Europe is best understood in its longue durée from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century and in reference to the long-term aftershocks of the Reformation and the profound transformation of both media and mediation it set in motion. The sixteenth-century reformers not only revolutionized the use of media, they also formulated their own theories about media and communication, addressing issues that remain of concern to modern media theorists who, however, rarely consider their theological precursors.

Protestants and Catholic reformers, albeit in confessionally distinct ways, responded to the same cultural crisis in mediation between God and humanity, as well as within the community of believers, particularly as the latter began expanding rapidly with the onset of global evangelization. Each camp developed theories and practices of optimizing ‘vertical communication’ with the divine and ‘horizontal communication’ among humanity. Consequently, the recourse to the different theologies of early modern reform can help us examine the complex and competing media cultures of the time and what helped drive technological changes. The transformation of media had a persistent corollary in the critique of mediation. Once unleashed, this critique would not go away, but would be reformulated throughout the early modern period and beyond, and in a host of contexts within and beyond the religious domain.

Against this backdrop, our conference cycle takes as its starting point the conjunction of Reformation theology and the rise of new media in the sixteenth century to then traces the ripple effects of these phenomena in the following centuries. Our sites of investigation include European cultures, “New World” spaces, and the trans-oceanic communication networks linking them.

Registration Fees: $15 per person; UC faculty & staff, students with ID: no charge (photocopy of student ID should accompany registration the completed registration form). Complimentary lunch and other refreshments are provided to all registrants. Please be aware that space at the Clark is limited and that registration closes when capacity is reached. No confirmation will be sent, but we will contact you if we receive your registration after we reach capacity. (more…)

The French Revolution at the Musée Carnavalet

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on November 20, 2009

As noted in Napoleon.org, an online magazine published by the Fondation Napoléon:

La Révolution française, trésors cachés du musée Carnavalet / The French Revolution: Hidden Treasures of the Musée Carnavalet
Musée Carnavalet, Paris, 30 September 2009 — 3 January 2010

The Musée Carnavalet, site of one of the largest and most important collections on the French Revolution, is holding an exhibition dedicated to the events of 1789 and beyond, based on two hundred carefully selected pieces (including drawings, engravings, paintings, objets d’art and sculptures) from its stores. The exhibition is laid out chronologically, and will trace the major events of the Revolution through such works of art and depictions as the Serment du Jeu de Paume, the storming of the Bastille and the Fête de la Fédération. As well as the chronological aspects to the exhibition, themes such as the role of women, the key players in the events, vandalism, religion, fashion and architecture will all be considered. La Révolution française, trésors cachés du musée Carnavalet offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the events of a period that irrevocably changed society.

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France-Angleterre à Carnavalet, caricatures anglaises au temps de la Révolution et de l’Empire / France and England at the Carnavalet: English Caricatures during the Revolution and the Empire
Musée Carnavalet, Paris, 30 September 2009 — 3 January 2010

Running alongside La Révolution française, trésors cachés du musée Carnavalet is a small display of some forty English caricatures from the Revolution and French Empire periods. At the dawn of the French Revolution, English caricature, infused with a rare irreverence, dominated European satirical production. Its freedom in tone is inherently linked to the press freedom that existed in Britain at the time, which led to comment on not only continental affairs, but those relating to domestic matters too. The characters of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Sans-culottes, and the chaotic political events in France provided a wealth of material and inspiration for the satirists, allowing them to give vent to their patriotism and innovation in equal measure. The images, always lively and often crude, are placed in their historical context, and allow the visitors to develop their understanding of national stereotypes and appreciate the combative satire of French events as interpreted by artists such as James Gillray, Isaac and George Cruikshanks and Thomas Rowlandson.

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