Exhibition | Making Marvels: Science & Splendor

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on October 14, 2019

From the press release (21 May 2019) for the exhibition:

Making Marvels: Science & Splendor at the Courts of Europe
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 25 November 2019 — 1 March 2020

Curated by Wolfram Koeppe

Between 1550 and 1750, nearly every royal family in Europe assembled vast collections of exquisite and entertaining objects. Lavish public spending and the display of precious metals were important expressions of power, and possessing artistic and technological innovations conveyed status. In fact, advancements in art, science, and technology were often prominently showcased in elaborate court entertainments that were characteristic of the period. Opening November 25, Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe will explore the complex ways in which the wondrous objects collected and displayed by early modern European monarchs expressed these rulers’ ability to govern.

The exhibition will feature approximately 170 objects—including clocks, automata, furniture, scientific instruments, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, print media, and more—from The Met collection and over 50 lenders. A number of these works have never been displayed in the United States. Among the many exceptional loans will be silver furniture from the Esterházy Treasury; the largest flawless natural green diamond in the world, weighing 41 carats and in its original 18th-century setting; the alchemistic table bell of Emperor Rudolf II; a large wire-drawing bench made for Elector Augustus of Saxony; a rare example of an early equation clock by Jost Bürgi; and a reconstruction of a late 18th-century semi-automaton chess player, known as The Turk, that once famously caught Napoleon Bonaparte cheating.

Making Marvels is the first exhibition in North America to highlight the important conjunction of art, science, and technology with entertainment and display that was essential to court culture. The exhibition will be divided into four sections dedicated to the main object types featured in these displays: precious metalwork, Kunstkammer objects, princely tools, and self-moving clockworks or automata.

In order to emphasize the scientific and technological content of these objects, the exhibition will begin by establishing the high level of material value and artisanal quality that princes had to meet in these displays of wealth and power. Visitors will encounter a set of superbly fashioned silver furniture that was considered the ultimate symbol of power, status, and money during the early modern period. The second section will be dedicated to the unusual objects of the Kunstkammer, as these collections were known in German-speaking provinces. These pieces were typically composed of newly discovered natural materials set in finely crafted mounts of silver or gold, whose highly inventive designs often embodied the most up-to-date knowledge of the natural world. Reflective of the multi-layered objects they housed, Kunstkammern functioned simultaneously as places of amusement, research retreats for the investigation of nature, and political showcases for magnificence.

Knowledge of subjects such as natural philosophy, artisanal craftsmanship, and technology was considered tantamount to the practical wisdom, self-mastery, and moral virtue integral to successful governance. Pursuits such as metalsmithing, surveying, horology, astronomy, and turning at the lathe were part of the education and entertainment of princes in courts across Europe. The exhibition’s third section will present the scientific instruments, artisanal tools, and experimental apparatus used by rulers as they developed the technical skills so important to their princely identity.

The exhibition will conclude with innovations in mechanical technology. Self-moving clockwork machines—perhaps the most well-known technological display objects—were also a rich source for allegories of rulership. Additionally, as courts competed for technical supremacy, many innovations in mechanical technology were developed at the urging of princely patrons. Automata represented the ultimate attempt to use mechanics to create life-like movement, and were extremely popular additions to princely collections from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. One highlight will be The Draughtsman Writer, a late 18th-century writing automaton that inspired the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret and its movie adaptation. The advanced mechanism of this piece, which stored more information than any machines that came before it, was the forerunner of the computer, the most common technology used today.

Throughout each gallery, videos and digital models will vividly evoke the historical reality of the objects on view and emphasize the similarities between early modern objects and contemporary technological entertainments. Exhibition visitors will discover innovative marvels that engaged and delighted the senses of the past much like 21st-century technology holds our attention today—through suspense, surprise, and dramatic transformations.

Making Marvels is organized by Wolfram Koeppe, Marina Kellen French Curator in The Met’s Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue, distributed by Yale University Press, are made possible by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation.

Wolfram Koeppe, ed., Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2019), 320 pages, ISBN: 978-1588396778, $65.

Above Image: Gerhard Emmoser, Celestial Globe with Clockwork, 1579; partially gilded silver, gilded brass (case); brass, steel (movement); diameter of globe: 14 cm (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917).


Call for Papers | Making a Case for Cases

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on October 14, 2019

From ArtHist.net:

Making a Case for Cases: The Furniture of Display
The Bowes Museum, County Durham, 10–11 January 2020

Proposals due by 22 November 2019

This conference aims to explore the furniture used by collectors, museums and institutions for displaying artefacts. Spanning diverse functions and definitions, objects known as display cases, showcases, china cabinets, vitrines, specimen tables, or even trophy cabinets, are ubiquitous in the home and museum. However, there remains a lack of scholarly engagement with cases in the writing on and about museums, demoting them as merely utilitarian or secondary to the objects they contain. This conference aims to shift the focus from the contained to the container.

From the earliest wunderkammer, treasure houses, and royal palaces, collectors and institutions have purchased, or commissioned craftsmen to make furniture to hold possessions or artefacts. With the rise and development of public art museums and large-scale international exhibitions in the nineteenth century, display cases became increasingly central to the aesthetics and practicalities of exhibiting art. As more people jostled to see or touch objects, cabinets were redesigned to fit with new techniques of preservation and display. We might consider the boom in the luxury furniture trade that offered private collectors from a range of social backgrounds the opportunity to decorate their homes and show off their prize pieces. How did public and private display cases mould forms of class and gender identity? How did they balance the need for access with the claims of distinction?

The display case was an invitation to close-looking and even scientific investigation. Types of visual scrutiny were inherently bound up with technological advances and this was mediated through shifts in case design. What were the power dynamics at work when something was placed inside a case, particularly in the imperial context of the nineteenth century, as foreign cultures were subject to study and objects were displaced from their original locations. Which histories do display cases speak to? This event will open a discussion around the topic between historians of any discipline who examine display cases and their role in presenting art and material culture.

The organisers invite abstracts for 20-minute papers and also shorter, in-focus presentations of around 5–8 minutes in length. We welcome papers on topics engaging with, but certainly not limited to:
• Cases in domestic or historic interiors, c.1750–1950
• The different taxonomy of cases: for porcelain, jewellery, taxidermy, documents, coins and medals, natural history and botanical specimens.
• Uniformity and difference in display cases
• Case design and architecture
• The impact of curators, collectors, artists or dealers on display case design.
• The criteria of cases; for study, classification or aesthetics?
• Display cases and preservation/conservation
• Display cases and Empire
• Display cases in commercial spaces.

Please direct all submissions to casesconference2020@gmail.com by noon on Friday 22 November 2019. The organisers will be in touch with the outcome of applications the following week.

The conference will take place in The Bowes Museum on Friday, 10 January and the morning of Saturday 11 January, allowing time for speakers and delegates to arrive via Darlington train station on Friday morning and to leave on Saturday after lunch. With its important collection of furniture used for display purposes, The Bowes Museum offers the ideal venue for this conference. We warmly invite all participants to join us on the afternoon of Saturday, 11 January at the museum for extra discussion and activities. Information on arrangements for accommodation will be available in due course.

This conference is generously supported by the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Consortium and The Bowes Museum.

We look forward to receiving your abstracts. With thanks from the organisers:
Charlotte Johnson (The University of Birmingham and Kedleston Hall, National Trust),
Lindsay Macnaughton (Durham University and The Bowes Museum),
Simon Spier (The University of Leeds and The Bowes Museum)

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