The Institute of Fine Arts and The Frick Collection Symposium on the History of Art

For more than half a century, The Frick Collection  and the Institute of Fine Arts have hosted a symposium for graduate students in art history. Students at all stages of their degree program are encouraged to submit papers that demonstrate the breadth and depth of research carried out at their institution. The symposium offers candidates the opportunity to deliver original research papers in a public forum and to engage with colleagues in the field — novice and expert.

The 2021 Symposium on the History of Art will be held via Zoom on April 16, 23, 30, and May 7 from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. Live captioning will be provided for each session.

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2021 Symposium on the
History of Art

April 16

“Aftermaths of Forced Monolingualism in the Works of Aydan Murtezaoğlu and Dilek Winchester”
Lara Fresko Madra, Cornell University

Established at the core of the crumbling Ottoman Empire in 1923, Turkey continued to institute sweeping reforms for the next decade which would dramatically alter the social, political, linguistic, and demographic make up of what remained in its shrunken territories. A 1928 photograph marks the language and script reforms; showing the founding father of the nation, Atatürk, introducing the new letters on a blackboard set up in a public square in Kayseri. These reforms replaced the dominant Arabic script with the Latin script, also rendering other scripts (such as Armenian, Greek, Cyrillic), languages (Armenian, Greek, Kurdish, and hybrid languages such as Ladino), and dialects defunct, and at times, criminal. This rupture in language presented chasm in knowledge and history; an intergenerational interruption whose aftereffects have not subsided, nor adequately addressed.

This paper offers a historical and iconographic reading of artworks by two contemporary artists from Turkey, which attend to this moment and its aftermaths. Visually, Aydan Murtezaoğlu and Dilek Winchester’s works both cite the iconic photograph, focusing their attention on the blackboard; the tabula rasa on which the history of a new nation was to be written anew. This paper examines two iterations of Murtezaoğlu’s work: her initial canvas collage from the series Urban Series (1992) and her first sculptural work derived from this canvas: Blackboard [Karatahta] (1993). In analyzing how the artist’s focus shifts within the space of a year and between the two iterations of her work, I mark its entanglement in a brief moment of political optimism when the recognition of the Kurdish language had become a possibility –only to be crushed with the suspicious death of President Özal only weeks before the second work was exhibited.

Winchester’s On Reading and Writing (2007) takes up the same blackboard trope fifteen years later at another socio-political watershed: this time the prospect of overcoming the great taboo of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and with it, several early Republican policies aimed at ethnic and linguistic Turkification, such as the Greek population exchange of 1924. Winchester’s work consists of two tripartite installations: Three books, the first Turkish novels written in Armenian, Greek and Arabic script and three blackboards inscribed in the same scripts with short narratives of daily realizations of difference, through language. If the side-by-side presentation of the books cunningly elaborate ways the language reforms informed what was archived and canonized, the blackboards illustrate the social fabric that was, and is still worn by forced monolingualism in the region. By reading the work of these two artists together and with reference to the 1928 photograph this paper presents an artistic lineage that tackles a foundational moment of violence in cultural and political history. But perhaps more importantly, it offers a social historiography of art that captures moments of crystallization in the protracted aftermaths of violence extending over a century.

“The Spring Exhibitions in Tetouan, Morocco (1979–86): Engaging with the Public and Transforming Art Pedagogies”
Tina Barouti, Boston University

In 1979 Ahmed Amrani, a graduate of The National Institute of Fine Arts, penned a manifesto for what became a series of five ephemeral outdoor exhibitions in the city of Tetouan’s al-Faddān square known as the Spring Exhibitions. The goal of Amrani and his peers was to transform the “sterile” square into a “cultural headquarters.” The exhibitions’ location in Tetouan, a city in the politically and economically disenfranchised Rif region with a tense relationship to the central Moroccan state, is particularly relevant to understanding their aims. Additionally, the 1970s and 1980s are understudied decades of Moroccan history defined by the Years of Lead, which was a period of state-sponsored violence and political oppression towards any opposition to the reign of King Hassan II. During this time, public spaces became highly-politicized sites of protest and resistance. Amrani and his peers, resentful of their city’s absence of commercial galleries and lack of media representation, used these art exhibitions and al-Faddān square as a form of protest against their professional marginalization and Tetouan’s liminal status.

In addition to the Spring Exhibitions’ political message, participating artists began to push against the relatively conservative pedagogy of Tetouan’s art school, which was originally launched in 1946 by the Spanish colonial government. In the first few iterations, artists affixed their oil-on-canvas paintings and drawings on the pillars of a now-demolished gazebo that stood at the center of the square, hung their work from wires connected to palm trees, or displayed art on portable stands. Photographic archives show men, women, and children crowding around to see the exhibitions. By the fourth edition in 1985, artists began to experiment with installation art with the assistance and participation of the general public. Displaying artwork outside of a gallery space and introducing the new medium of installation not only corresponded to international trends in art practice, but also ruptured with the pedagogy of the art school, which was heavily influenced by European fine arts academies. Shortly after the Spring Exhibitions’ final edition in 1986, installation art was officially introduced as a course at The National Institute of Fine Arts, thereby marking the beginnings of a contemporary art practice. Tracing the history of the Spring Exhibitions clarifies the neglected context of contemporary art’s development in Morocco, which is often presented in scholarship as emerging from a void. Additionally, the exhibitions show that artists were responding to and acting against localized marginalization by moving into the public space and developing new artistic forms during a tense period and, in the process, transforming artistic pedagogies within The National Institute of Fine Arts.

Cai Guo-Qiang: From the Pan-Pacific (1994): ‘Overcoming the Nation, Creating a Region, Forging an Empire’”
Ihnmi Jon, SUNY Binghamton

Cai Guo-Qiang, a Chinese-born, internationally active contemporary artist, has developed a successful career as a “global artist.” At various points during his career, Cai has migrated from China to Japan to the US, all the while strategically navigating the various forms and mechanisms of the regional artworlds within which his career has taken shape. In the process, he has become a protagonist in emergent globalized artworlds in the plural.

In 1993, Cai moved from Tokyo to Iwaki, an impoverished Japanese town in the Fukushima prefecture. Situating Cai’s relocation within a broader context of his career building, this paper examines a drastic, timely shift in his working methodology in preparation for his solo exhibition Cai Guo-Qiang: From the Pan-Pacific at the Iwaki City Art Museum in 1994. After moving to Iwaki, Cai undertook a new series of works that he called “collaborative projects,” selectively mobilizing Western art lineages, concepts, and aesthetic and anti-aesthetic gestures as a theoretical conduit for his artmaking. At the same time, he incorporated into these “collaborative projects” various markers of “Asianness,” such as region-specific healing methods, Taoist cosmology, Buddhist philosophy, and Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution credo. My examination of Cai’s modalities of artmaking and related practices of value-creation in Iwaki illuminates his self-conscious allegiance to Japanese Pan-Pacific cultural programs of the 1990s and the associated discursive formation of Ajia contemporary art— informed by the highly ideological Japanese commitment to an emerging Pan-Asian configuration that simultaneously sought “internationalism” and “new Asian conservatism.”

April 23

“Emperor’s New God: Royal Altar of Taiyi (‘Supreme Unity’) in the Western Han”
Ziliang (Alex) Liu, Harvard University

Although the rise of Taiyi “the Supreme Unity” in early Chinese theology is justly studied, research until now has seldomly paid attention to the sacrificial altar that Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141-87 BCE) built in the late second century BCE for his worship of the deity. As the most important imperially-commissioned religious structure dedicated to the cult of Taiyi, the altar is not only a historical marker signaling the beginning of a century-long royal patronage of the deity in the Western Han court, but also a religious architecture designed by court ritualists whose visual programming merits further art historical scrutiny.

In context of Emperor Wu’s repeated sacrifices to Taiyi throughout his reign, particularly the construction of a permanent altar at the Ganquan gong “Sweet Spring Palace” to the north of the capital city Chang’an in 112 BCE, this paper investigates the Altar of Taiyi in two venues. First, through a close examination of historical records on the sacrificial occasions, I reveal how coding of color and space in the altar’s architectural design reflected a complex visual rhetoric that asserted Taiyi’s superiority over long-standing gods in the ancient Chinese pantheon. Second, based on a combination of archaeological evidences and recent discoveries in conservation science, this paper explores how purple, the color designated to Taiyi, derived religious efficacy from the alchemical nature of purple pigment manufacturing in early China and how the use of purple in the altar in turn played a vital role in visualizing Taiyi’s divinity. Through these analyses, this paper presents the Altar of Taiyi as a peculiar case of religious architecture in ancient China where the authority of a god is not conveyed through pictorial means, but primarily “shaped” through an orchestration of spatial, chromatic, and allegorical design languages.

“Rediscovering the Painted Zhangzi 障子, a Major Painting Form in Tang Dynasty (618–907) China”
Wei Zhao, The Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Few secular paintings in portable media have survived from the time period before the Song Dynasty (960-1279) in China. Because of this scarcity, on the basis of textual and pictorial evidence, modern scholars consider the painted screen, handscroll, and mural to be the three major painting forms in this time period. Yet, the two most important Tang dynasty (618-907) literary documents on painting, Record of Famous Painters of All the Dynasties by Zhang Yanyuan (c. 815-c. 877) and Record of Famous Painters of the Tang Dynasty written by Zhu Jingxuan around 840, noted the existence of another painting form, the painted zhangzi 障子, and it has been a mystery to modern audience. What is the painted zhangzi? How significant or popular was it in the Tang dynasty? Did it continue to exist in later time periods? While the latter two questions remained unresolved, scholars proposed three possible answers to the first one: the painted zhangzi may denote the stiff single-panel painted screen, a specific type of single-panel painted screen that is in the shape of a horizontal rectangle, or painting(s) intended to be mounted on a screen. Nonetheless, a closer scrutiny of relevant literary texts indicates that none of the three is an accurate description of the painted zhangzi.

In this presentation, I explore all three aforementioned questions related to the painted zhangzi, and three types of evidence are used: textual, pictorial, and archaeological. First, on the basis of textual evidence, I identify the key characteristics of the painted zhangzi and propose that it was a complete and independent painting form that was entirely made of fabric and hung for display. Secondly, through analyzing poems containing information on painting formats that were assembled from The Complete Collection of Tang Dynasty Poetry and The Complete Collection of Song Dynasty Poetry, respectively, I argue that the painted zhangzi, together with mural and the painted screen, was among the three most significant painting forms in Tang dynasty (618-907) China. I further argue that the painted zhangzi was more popular than the painted screen in the Tang dynasty. Textual evidence shows that the popularity of the painted zhangzi declined substantially in the Song dynasty, but pictorial evidence suggests that it continued to exist until at least the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Thirdly, I identify in Tang dynasty murals both depictions and representations of the painted zhangzi, most of which were previously identified as those of the painted screen. Lastly, I argue that the format of a certain type of Tang dynasty religious paintings preserved in the “Library Cave” at the Mogao grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu province, China, a secret chamber that had been sealed for almost 900 years before its accidental discovery in 1900, matches that of the painted zhangzi. These paintings are very likely to be examples of the painted zhangzi, of which no secular specimens from the Tang dynasty have survived.

“Raffaëlli’s Ragpickers and the Legacy of the Paris Commune”
Carmen Rosenberg-Miller, Princeton University

The President of France, Adolphe Thiers, often defended the republic as “the form of government which divides us the least.” Yet the Third Republic (1870-1940), haunted by the memory of the Paris Commune (1871), was marked by profound division and polarization, especially in its first decade. Many of the problems that had prompted the 1871 uprising, namely unemployment, poverty, and homelessness, persisted. This paper considers Jean-François Raffaëlli’s paintings of ragpickers in the context of the traumatic legacy of the Paris Commune.

In 1871, Raffaëlli was just twenty years old, a young artist living in Montmartre, at the very beginning of his career. The Commune made an indelible impression on him. In sketchbooks, he recorded the events unfolding before his eyes. Documenting the gruesome violence he witnessed firsthand, Raffaëlli lamented that artists never depicted the true horrors of war. If they had, Raffaëlli believed, bloodshed might have been spared. This belief in the power of art to shape public perception, memory, and even political will would become a driving force of his work.

This paper positions Raffaëlli’s ragpicker paintings of the late 1870s and early 1880s, the works which would come to define his career, as a direct outgrowth of his experience in 1871. The series pictures the socially and economically marginalized men and women who lived in the outskirts of Paris, often in the very spaces where the violence of the Commune had played out. While the Third Republic cast the Communards as criminally and morally degenerate and attempted to promote this narrative through an aggressive policy that censored dissenting images and texts, Raffaëlli’s portraits of disenfranchised Parisians visualized the real and ongoing hardship these men and women faced.

Raffaëlli’s series was premised on a radical, empathetic connection between artist and subject and executed in a late Realist style reminiscent of Courbet. Included in the highly contested Impressionist exhibitions of 1880 and 1881, these works stood in sharp contrast with the Impressionist mode of painting, which was centered self-consciously on personal experience and stylistically foregrounded the artist’s individual optics and point-of-view. Indeed, Raffaëlli’s philosophy of art, which he coined Caractérisme, insisted on humanistic rapport as the basis for representation.

Considering Raffaëlli’s work in the aftermath of the Paris Commune puts his depictions of the marginalized men and women living on the outskirts of Paris into historical perspective. His commitment to a renewed potential for realist representation evinces a belief in the power of painting to help heal France’s deep-seated political, social, and economic divisions.

“Translucent Insect, Glistening Webs: Florine Stettheimer’s Canopies, Veils, and Cocoons”
Kendall DeBoer, University of Rochester

Pavel Tchelitchew disclosed that his close friend Florine Stettheimer “considered herself an ephemere, ‘the transparent insect that is so translucent one can hardly see it.’” Throughout Parker Tyler’s biography on Stettheimer, he characterizes her various personae at length, one of which is dragonfly-mayfly-butterfly, and another a “Veronica’s Veil image.” These personae mirror Stettheimer’s idiosyncratic decorative arts practices, which follows her own credo that a persona is composed of décor as much as of itself.

In Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, and Performativity, Eve Sedgwick characterizes “the desire of a reparative impulse” as “additive and accretive.” In Stettheimer’s environmental accumulations of lace, tinsel, cellophane, white muslin, and ribbons, I see a reparative impulse, which Sedgwick aligns with the dissolution of subject-object distinctions. This dissolution is not unlike Stettheimer’s strongly anthropomorphic identification with her work, and her conception of personae and décor as enmeshed aspects of the self.

This paper explores Stettheimer’s tendency to wrap, drape, cover, adorn, and layer as it manifests in her various arts. I operate with the premise that Stettheimer is demonstrably interested not only in surfaces, but in glittering, kaleidoscopic, iridescent surfaces that seem translucent, but refuse easy visuality. I examine several, related categories in which both her additive impulse and tricky, dazzling surfaces appear: canopies, veils, and cocoons.

Though Stettheimer only presented her paintings in one solo show during her lifetime, her 1916 debut at the Knoedler gallery emblematizes her lifelong mixing of decorative arts and fine arts by way of immersive environments. She recreated her boudoir as the setting for her paintings, complete with her bed and its transparent, gilt-fringed canopy. This canopy acts as a prototype for many to follow. Stettheimer uses canopies so often that Tyler calls her a “canopist.” Canopies appear in her paintings, as decorative motifs on her wooden panel screens, in her miniature maquettes and actualized stage designs for Four Saints in Three Acts, and as mainstay fixtures in her bedrooms both at Alwyn Court and her Beaux Arts studio.

Tyler suggests Stettheimer’s canopies conjure the white veils worn by nuns and brides. He, too, describes Stettheimer herself as “veiled,” but also provides anecdotes about her habit of hosting private “unveiling” events—birthday parties—for her paintings, during which she would ceremoniously remove the fabric from easels that were otherwise always covered. Within the paintings, too, veils appear upon, behind, and around her figures.

When discussing Stettheimer’s dragonfly-mayfly-butterfly persona, Tyler notes that “the word canopy actually derives from an insect, the gnat,” connecting her fascination with the form to an extension of this insectoid persona. Elsewhere, though he does not explicitly connect the term with this persona, Tyler describes Stettheimer’s Beaux Arts boudoir a “cocoon of lace,” and captions a photo of her bedroom with “interior cocoon.” This specific room is swathed in Nottingham lace, which covers almost every possible surface. More metaphorically, he describes her visions as “luminous cocoons.” These comparisons are particularly rich, because they evokes the process by which Stettheimer seemingly spins iridescent silken fibers with which she builds her glistening environments.

April 30

Wearing Your Soul on Your Sleeve: Textiles with Christian Inscriptions in Medieval Egypt”
Arielle Winnik, Bryn Mawr College

A fragmentary ninth-to twelfth-century cloth in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin presents a type of textile familiar to historians of medieval Egypt. Finely spun threads of wool in their natural un-dyed color form a delicate cloth. A line of red embroidered script spans the textile. From the layout, style, size, and color scheme, it is clear that the object belongs to the larger group of textiles known as ṭirāz.

Ṭirāz was traditionally gifted by the caliph in recognition of political support, and ṭirāz inscriptions found on textiles from the medieval Islamic world are usually rendered in Arabic. Yet the Berlin textile departs from typical examples of ṭirāz in that the inscription is rendered in Coptic, the liturgical language of medieval Egypt’s non-hegemonic Christian population.

Building from the work of Finbarr Barry Flood and other scholars who have examined intercultural artistic relations in the medieval era, I argue that the Berlin textile is a “translation” of ṭirāz not only in the language of its inscription—from Arabic to Coptic—but also in the social functions that the object played. The Berlin textile adapted the meanings of traditional Arabic-language ṭirāz to accommodate its wearer’s Christian identity and worldview, while still maintaining the trans-confessional connotations of social prestige that ṭirāz conveyed. The textile provides a case study for how Christians living under Islamic hegemony adapted material culture to express their distinct identities in ways that were still acceptable to the dominant socio-political order. In doing so, their “translation” of ṭirāz suggests new and nuanced understandings of social difference (and sameness) in “Islamicate” cultures.

“Picturing Nuns as Patrons: The 15th-Century Le Traité de la vanité des choses mondaines
Erica Kinias, Brown University

The archetypal patrons of monastic art and architecture in the Middle Ages are lay women and men whose donations were in aid of their own spiritual well-being and that of their relatives, and rarely do we consider nuns who themselves commissioned works out of their own private wealth. This paper highlights the less-studied practice of artistic patronage by nuns by examining a remarkable illuminated manuscript, Le Traité de la vanité des choses mondaines, (“Treatise on the vanity of worldly things”), commissioned by Jehanne Girand (d. 1468), abbess of the female Franciscan abbey of Longchamp, located just west of Paris in the Bois de Boulogne. Produced in 1466 for the private use of the abbess, the manuscript features nineteen richly decorated images depicting Jeanne in dialogue with the treatise’s author, the friar Jean Barthélemy, within the architecturally specific spaces of her abbey, accompanied by scenes of the outside world—inaccessible to a cloistered nun—described in the text. I present this work, with its rich layering of images: the patron, who is both subject and intended reader, is depicted in her cloistered space next to the author, her teacher, and the choses mondaines. I argue that these layers of meaning result in a dynamic, multisensory devotional tool in which the abbess plays an active role of both humble nun and supplicant to spiritual instruction and privileged patron.

“One Body, Two Tombs: Cardinal Oliviero Carafa’s Burial Chapels in Rome and Naples”
Franchesca Fee, Rutgers University

Four years after the Florentine painter Filippino Lippi had finished decorating Cardinal Oliviero Carafa’s splendid funerary chapel at Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the seat of the Dominican order in Rome, the Cardinal acquired the rights to a second burial site in his natal city of Naples. Popularly known as the Succorpo, the Cardinal, in choosing a locus for his Neapolitan tomb, opted for the crypt beneath the high altar of the Duomo instead of a chapel in the Carafa family church of San Domenico Maggiore, even though he was Cardinal Protector of the Dominican Order. An unusual and unparalleled maneuver, Carafa’s choice to build and endow two burial chapels in different cities—and to move beyond the barriers of family and religious order—marks a dramatic shift in the way in which ecclesiastics immortalized themselves and jockeyed for spiritual capital in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

In his will of 1509, the Cardinal made his burial intentions clear, requesting that his body be laid within his chapel at the Minerva before a transfer to Naples to be buried in the Succorpo alongside the relics of San Gennaro. The Cardinal, who distinctively sought influence in two cities at once, afforded himself a double magnificent commemoration, effectively making each funerary chapel a shrine to which the faithful could offer prayers in perpetuity on behalf of the chapels’ patron. In addition to these invocations, Carafa’s corpse enjoyed a close proximity to miracle-working relics in each funerary space. At Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the Cardinal enlarged a chapel near the high altar, which housed the body of Catherine of Siena, a critically important Dominican saint. In Naples, Carafa was instrumental in securing and translating the relics of San Gennaro back to the city in order to endow his chapel with a singular religious and civic importance for its Neapolitan audience. The reinstatement of the corpus in toto certainly elevated the Cardinal’s status.

As a prince of the Church, Cardinal Carafa was a canny strategist who was uniquely poised to cross the boundaries between religious and secular power—and the boundaries between Rome and Naples. This paper will argue that his commissioning of a second sepulcher beneath the high altar of the Duomo in Naples, that is not only more sumptuous than the first but more outstanding in terms of its spiritual power, was a bold and unprecedented maneuver. This study will also reveal the iconographic parallels between the two chapels and will demonstrate that the programs of both the Roman and Neapolitan chapels point to a complex interplay of the liturgical, theological, and political that depends on papal precedents, linking Carafa to the papacy and promoting his own papal bid.

“Enlivened Idols and the Power of Women: Rethinking Van Hemessen’s Judith (ca. 1540)”
Anna-Claire Stinebring, University of Pennsylvania

In the c. 1540 Judith (Chicago, AIC) by the Antwerp painter Jan Sanders van Hemessen,the powerful nude body of the Old Testament heroine is portrayed in eroticized and artificial terms. Her muscular body is incongruously paired with a doll-like face. Her body spirals around a central axis, providing the opportunity—claimed as distinctive to sculpture—to admire it from all sides. The surface of Judith’s skin appears luminous, hard, and polished, as if carved from alabaster. More specifically, the ruddy hue suggests warmed or enlivened alabaster, imaginatively visualizing how alabaster, unlike marble, transmits body heat when touched. The nearly life-sized Chicago Judith appears in the process of turning from stone into flesh. There is an oscillation between the objectification of Judith’s body and the presentation of her agency.

Judith’s figure is inevitably informed by the antique and Italian sculptural models that Van Hemessen would have encountered during travel to Italy. Yet its figura serpentinata twist equally suggests the manipulation of small studio models in wax, and its surface appearance should be considered in the context of the production of small-scale alabasters in Antwerp and nearby Mechelen. Through his simulation in oil of the materiality of alabaster as well as a range of sculptural types and scales, Van Hemessen invoked the Ovidian story of Pygmalion entranced by his sculptural creation come to life. The Chicago Judith, furthermore, conjures a particularly charged conceptual category of sculpture—the idol—even if Judith is ultimately meant to be understood as a pious biblical heroine. This connection is strengthened by the blatant eroticization of the nude portrayal. Period viewers would have been familiar with Judith not only being praised as a model for female piety and chastity by writers such as Erasmus, but also increasingly as situated within the theme of female deception, or vrouwenlisten (Power of Women), where Judith’s deadly seduction of Holofernes is emphasized, and where she is paired with biblical antagonists such as Delilah and the Queen of Sheba, who seduced King Solomon into idolatry, an episode at times represented in Netherlandish art with the idol shown as a small naked female figure on a column.
This paper reconsiders Van Hemessen’s Judith through the lens of its multivalent references to sculpture and its evocation of the misogynistic early modern topos of the Power of Women, which casts women as dominant actors who easily overpower men. It argues that the references to sculpture, contrary to signaling a simplistic Netherlandish adaptation of the Italian paragone or dialogue between painting and sculpture, instead are intentionally designed to invoke period polemics against idolatry, which routinely conflated idolatry with adultery. Departing from previous scholarship on the subject, this paper takes seriously the rendering of Judith’s embodiment and agency within the paradigmatic pairing of idolatry and adultery, examining how the painting’s invocation of the Power of Women—of negative female agency—complicates its reflexive reference to its own artifice in the context of Antwerp at the outset of the Reformation, rather than being incidental to it.

May 7

“Signs as Designs: The Yongzheng Emperor and the Multicolored World of China’s Southwestern Frontier”
Julie Bellemare, Bard Graduate Center

Between January and August of 1729, Ortai (1680-1745), governor-general of the remote southwestern provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou, sent reports of extraordinary sightings of multicolored clouds to his sovereign, the Yongzheng emperor (r. 1723-35). The sightings were followed by Ortai’s discovery of polychrome stones, samples of which he sent to Beijing, where they were carved into scholar’s items for imperial use. Ortai is best known for bringing ethnic minorities and local chieftains under the aegis of an expanding Qing empire—so why did he concern himself with multicolored clouds and rocks? By drawing on previously unexamined palace memorials and workshop archives, this paper follows these auspicious signs and colorful stones as they were translated into design motifs and carved into exclusive items at the Qing court. Using surviving examples in museum collections ranging from imperial dress and accoutrements to enamels and inkstones, it argues that natural manifestations of color were understood as signs of Heavenly approval of the emperor’s legitimacy during a time of crisis, and that this corpus of decorative arts speaks to the Yongzheng emperor’s awareness of the power of visual and material culture to convey subtle political messages. Focusing on the broader understandings of polychromy in the Yongzheng period ultimately recasts what has been termed the “Manchu penchant for color” as a mechanism of political legitimation, whereby the power of the Qing state to discover and extract raw materials, and to transform them into finished objects, evinced both political and technological prowess.

“William Blake and the Golden Whirlwind”
Tara Contractor, Yale University

In 1809, William Blake staged an ambitious exhibition featuring nine paintings (or in his terms “frescoes”)—glimmering, clotted mixtures of tempera, watercolor, honey, and gold. In subject, style, and materials, these works marked a total departure from the Grand Manner history painting promoted by the Royal Academy, where he had trained. One of the most striking (and most heavily gilded) works was The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth, which, in the words of Blake’s own catalogue, depicts the former prime minister William Pitt as“ ‘that Angel who, pleased to perform the Almighty’s orders, rides on the whirlwind, directing the storms of war.”

Focusing on The Spiritual Form of Pitt, this paper explores how Blake’s unusual gilding suggests gold’s new economic and imperial associations in the years leading up to the formalization of the gold standard. I suggest that his choice to depict Pitt in a flurry of gold leaf alludes to “The Bullion Controversy,” a debate that surrounded Pitt’s efforts to fund war with France by increasing the circulation of paper money. For some members of Blake’s radical circle, sympathy with the French Revolution went hand in hand with a larger anti-imperialist sentiment that lauded figures like Tipu Sultan for opposing Britain’s presence in India.  Especially significant within this context is Blake’s claim that his painting was based on “Hindoo…Antiquity,” which raises the possibility that he drew not only from the gold grounds and glories of medieval art, but also from the gold-heightened surfaces of Indian paintings, which had become prevalent in Blake’s London. Building on previous studies tracing Blake’s keen interest in Indian sculpture, I explore the possibility that he saw gilded Mughal miniature paintings in London’s East India Company Library (works which were then under the care of Charles Wilkins, whose portrait he included in his 1809 exhibition).

My project considers the way that words like “primitive” and “savage” recur in both economic and aesthetic writings on gold, suggesting gold’s implicit potential to undermine Britain’s status an advanced civilization and rightful claim to global empire. Bringing object-based analyses informed by techniques from art conservation into a conversation about gold, money, and value that has largely taken place in literary criticism, this paper explores how Blake came to understand gold as the material best capable of investigating what it meant to make and sell art within an imperial center.

“‘Marks Easily Distinguished’: The Borrowdale Graphite Mine and the Production of the Picturesque”
Tobah Aukland-Peck, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

In 1797, JMW Turner embarked on a tour of England’s Lake District. His sketchbooks were soon filled with the outlines of the area’s dramatic scenery produced en plein air. Two of the resulting drawings show the landscape around the Borrowdale lead mine. This exceptional graphite deposit had been mined since the sixteenth century and set the global standard for purity and texture. Turner was drawn to the area around the mine, presumably interested in this famous source for artistic tools. He did not, however, include a discernible trace of the industrial infrastructure that facilitated graphite’s extraction. Yet his awareness of graphite as the material basis of his sketches constructed a link between the sketchbook and the landscape which undermined the canon of the picturesque. Borrowdale graphite was a site-specific economic product, highly valued and heavily regulated. Turner’s use of graphite as an artistic tool, coupled with his knowledge of the mine, signals the commercial underpinnings of his pictorial project.

This paper situates Turner’s time in the Lake District alongside contemporaneous descriptions of the mine from writer William Gilpin and geologist Jonathan Otley. It also addresses John Ruskin’s theories of the opposition between art and industrial production. Graphite’s mutability, as both artistic instrument and industrial product, interrupts the division that Ruskin established in Modern Painters between the intuitive students of nature, which included the artist and the geologist, and those who dealt with the physical materials of extraction, like the miner and the factory worker. Yet Turner’s sketching practice, which I analyze as a method of gathering data for later oil paintings, was predicated on graphite’s portability and tonal range. Borrowdale graphite instigated and facilitated the picturesque sketching tour. Its mark on the page encoded the specter of the miner in the realm of the artist. 

"‘To the Boundary of the Kowloon Territory’: An Architectural History of the Kowloon Walled City, 1898–1912"
Y. L. Lucy Wang, Columbia University

For most of its two-century-long existence from about 1810 to 1994, the Kowloon Walled City housed built structures, but its classification as architecture has remained tenuous. Not until the years prior to its demolition did it receive sustained attention from architects and architectural historians as a multi-story slum dwelling where crime and vernacular building practices ran rampant. However, the architectural nature of the six-acre area predated its late twentieth-century state. From its founding as a Qing military outpost, it underwent various structural additions and renovations, including an imperial Chinese bureaucratic complex known as a yamen [衙門], temples, schools, and an outer wall, after which the Walled City was named.

Against the grain of scholarship that has denied the presence of formal architecture, this paper considers the early years of the Walled City as an architectural history. The Convention of 1898 ushered in a British-led land surveying effort throughout the New Territories, followed by the creation of an intricate bureaucracy for managing land lots. This clash of empires thus saw the use of two forms of land knowledge—Qing land deeds and British cadastral land surveys—within the colony of Hong Kong. In between these systems existed the Walled City, its inhabitation falling outside the British conception of land division, but its historical contours very much shaped by the architectural boundaries that gave it its name.