RIHA Lecture 2014

Into the Roots of Mechanical Disegno: Rethinking the Meaning of 'Design' in Italian Renaissance Wood Intarsia

Thursday, 26 June 2014

18.00, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

intarsia wood panel showing a desk and machine in lower section and chalice and Bible (?) in upper half
Intarsia Panel, Raffaello da Brescia, Bologna, ca. 1513-1537, V&A

Speaker(s): Dr Marta Ajmar (Research Department, Victoria and Albert Museum)

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission

Organised by: Professor Caroline Arscott

Moving on from her recently published RIHA article, in this talk Marta Ajmar will extend the concept of mechanical disegno to wood intarsia. Exemplifying a dominant trend within Renaissance historiography, Vasari defines wood intarsia as a 'low exercise'. Vulnerable to blackening and infestation by woodworm and fungi, intarsia is presented as a technology at odds with the ingenuity of the maestri who practice it. The talk will question this reductive narrative and explore the experimental nature of intarsia-making on the Renaissance shop floor and its basis as a distinctive form of artisanal epistemology. It will show how fungal attacks were exploited for the purpose of obtaining rare shades of vivid green, just as wood abnormalities were transformed into luminous, textured effects, activating a process of material mimesis between the arts. This engagement with the materiality of wood in the design of Renaissance intarsia reveals an open approach to the artisans' encounter with matter and with other technologies and an astonishing engagement with light and its manifold behaviour, thus demanding a radical shift in the way this arte is apprehended.

Marta Ajmar (MA and PhD, Warburg Institute) heads the V&A/RCA History of Design Postgraduate Programme. Between 2002 and 2006 she directed the research project, funded by the Getty Foundation and the AHRC, for the major V&A exhibition At Home in Renaissance Italy. She was CI and consultant on the research project ‘Healthy Homes, Healthy Bodies. Domestic Culture and the Prevention of Disease in Renaissance and Early Modern Italy’, supported by the Wellcome Trust (2009-2012). She co-leads the V&A Research Institute Pilot Project, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2014-15).

Her research interests lie principally in the design and material culture of Renaissance and Early Modern Italy and the Mediterranean world. She has published on the domestic interior, gender, eroticism, the material culture of the family and childhood and on early modern globalisation. Her current book project explores questions of artisanal practice, technology and materiality, proposing a re-assessment of the understanding and global connections of the so-called 'mechanical arts' in the Renaissance. Her publications include At Home in Renaissance Italy (London, 2006); Approaching the Italian Renaissance Interior: Sources, Methodologies, Debates (Oxford, 2007); Approaches to Renaissance Consumption (Oxford, 2002).

This is the fifth annual lecture associated with the RIHA Journal, the Journal of the International Association of Research Institutes in the History of Art, launched in 2010. It represents an ambitious effort to coordinate and support the multiple approaches to art historical research in RIHA’s many member countries through the production of a freely accessible online journal. The Journal makes use of local editors from all the member institutes, including The Courtauld, to peer review and publish outstanding articles in this field. Managed by Dr Regina Wenninger in the Zentralinstituts für Kunstgeschichte in Munich, the Journal is supported by the German government in the form of specially adapted ‘Plone’ software for multi-site editing. For further information see: http://www.riha-journal.org

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