Andrew W Mellon Foundation/Research Forum Mellon MA 2012 - 2013 Report

Visualising Knowledge in the Early Modern Netherlands c.1550-1730

The Southern Netherlands and the Dutch Republic were not only famous for their art production, but a centre of the fundamental reconfigurations of knowledge that took place in Europe during the early modern period. Cities such as Antwerp, Leiden and later Amsterdam were ‘hubs’ attracting merchants, printers, artists and scholars from all over Europe. Old as well as new models for knowledge were not only debated but also made visible and even made tactile. Moreover, it was in the Dutch Republic that the revolutionary philosophy of René Descartes was conceived and first published. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation interdisciplinary MA Visualising Knowledge in the Early Modern Netherlands, a highly successful collaboration between Joanna Woodall of The Courtauld Institute of Art and Eric Jorink, of the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands in The Hague, was particularly concerned with the role of visuality and visual materials in these exciting developments.

Professor Woodall teaches the history of Dutch and Flemish art, specialising in issues of realism; Eric Jorink, who was appointed to a Professorship at the University of Leiden during the MA course, has published widely on early modern scientific culture, including Reading the Book of Nature in the Dutch Golden Age, 1575-1715 (2010). He jointly edited Art and Science in the Early Modern Netherlands (2011) and is currently completing a biography of the Amsterdam microscopist Johannes Swammerdam (1637-1680). The postdoctoral fellow in the first term was Dr Edward Wouk, whose expertise lies in the art of sixteenth century Antwerp. After Dr Wouk left to take up a permanent post in Manchester, his place was taken by Dr Katrin Seyler, whose research concerns the knowledge produced and at the disposal of German journeymen in the eighteenth century.

The two course tutors developed an entirely new curriculum for the MA option, drawing on their specialist knowledge and their common interests in exploring subjects such as representation from the life, cabinets of curiosity and the role of visual materials in communicating knowledge of the New World. Apart from one week, the tutors taught every class together throughout the course, and jointly supervised all the MA dissertations. This produced an on-going, deepening conversation from which the tutors and the students benefited enormously. Rather than separating ‘works of art’ from ‘scientific’ illustrations and materials, the course encompassed paintings, drawings and prints by canonical artists alongside, for example, the illustrations to Descartes’ Discours, original drawings by Maria Sibylla Merian and anatomical preparations.

As well as making use of resources in London such as rare emblem books in the Warburg library, prints and drawings in the British Museum and the collections of the Wellcome Institute for the history of medicine, the students and the tutors enjoyed and learned a great deal from a four-day visit to Antwerp and the Netherlands, during which they had behind-the-scenes access to institutions, libraries, print rooms, exhibitions and historical sites as well as visiting museums and galleries. The tutors also developed a productive relationship with the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is currently refurbishing its European Galleries. For their first assessed essay, some of the students were allowed to research objects which were being considered for display in the cabinet of curiosity which will form part of the new displays. In the spring term, the tutors also organised a very well-attended Friends Lecture Series, which brought together an international group of historians of art and of science to consider ways in which knowledge was made visible in Early Modern Europe. The students also had access to a course in Early Modern Dutch, which the tutor taught online.

Five of the eight students who participated in the MA Option came from the UK, with one each from Hong Kong, Indonesia and the Netherlands. Most had previously studied art history, but two had a background in English literature. The quality of the students was high, resulting in four Distinctions (the highest possible category), three Merits and one Pass. One of the Mellon students gained the highest mark of the entire MA cohort (some 150 students) for a wonderful piece of work on the illustrations to two posthumous publications of Descartes’ Traité de L’Homme.

Joanna Woodall and Eric Jorink are planning to continue their collaboration in the future. The experience of designing and teaching the MA was enriching and fulfilling. They are profoundly grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Joanna Woodall

October 2013


Report on Andrew W Mellon Foundation/Research Forum Postdoctoral Fellowship (Mellon MA) 2012-2013

1. Dr Edward Wouk - 2012

I was deeply honoured to hold the Andrew W Mellon Foundation Research Forum Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2012, participating in the Mellon MA Visualising Knowledge in the Early Modern Netherlands co-taught by Professor Joanna Woodall and Dr Erik Jorink of the Huygens Institute in The Hague. This interdisciplinary MA brought together historians of art and historians of science to explore the intersections of two disciplines – art and science – that were anything but distinct in the early modern period.

Team-taught and structured around the investigation of objects, the MA opened students to new ways of looking at images. Moving beyond the contrived distinctions between ‘art’ and ‘illustration’, we considered everything from canonical paintings to pressed flowers as objects that construct and disseminate knowledge, often pressing against or crossing over the boundaries of traditional modes of representation and epistemological systems.  Focusing on the cultures of the early modern Low Countries not only gave the course a clear geographic and chronological structure, but also helped bring our discussions of scientific inquiry and art history to bear on issues including religion, politics, and the status of images. In the Fall, we also looked extensively at the figure of Hans Sloane, the Irish physician, collector and humanist whose collections form the basis of the British Museum. I was able to share with the group some of my knowledge of the early modern print, a medium which expanded the scope of knowledge with ever increasing speed. A coordinated series of evening lectures brought in other eminent scholars, giving students (and a larger public) a chance to hear the most current research by a diverse group of speakers whose writings we parsed in seminar.

Our group discussions helped inform my own thinking about the broader intellectual context of the Iconoclasm of 1566 and the ensuing Dutch Revolt, two events that are central to both of my current research projects: a monograph on the Flemish painter Frans Floris, expanded from my doctoral dissertation, and a book-length study of the Latin secretary and amateur painter Dominicus Lampsonius, the first art theorist of the Netherlands. As I now see it, the humanist circles in which these men operated were shaped by questions about knowledge and the discovery of new worlds and peoples to a much greater degree than scholarship has previously acknowledged. Far from an ancillary domain of inquiry, scientific thought had a direct bearing on how Floris and Lampsonius responded to the events of their times and the visions they articulated – in images and in text – of a more peaceful world.

One highlight of my time on the MA was a trip to the Low Countries, where colleagues in Belgium and the Netherlands opened their collections to us and invited us to dig deeply into their rich holdings, often in quiet study rooms where we broke into small groups to handle and discuss the objects themselves, much as their original creators and users would have done.  At the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, for instance, we sat with sixteenth-century atlases, herbaria, travel guides, specimen books, drawings, engravings, and even a prized copy of the famous Polyglot Bible, all printed by the Plantin press and kept in its store for centuries. Walking through Antwerp’s streets and visiting its churches and stately homes often hidden from the public view, we considered the city itself as an agent in the production of knowledge, a forum where humanist gentlemen of diverse backgrounds had come together through the related worlds of commerce and learning.

We had similarly exhilarating experiences as we moved north and a century later, to Dutch centres of knowledge in the seventeenth century. In addition to a session with some of the treasures of the University of Amsterdam’s rare books collection, we visited the Historisches Museum, where a timely exhibition, then still being assembled, engaged with many of the questions we were considering, using objects and documents to draw a broader public into the debate about Holland’s role in shaping ‘science’ in the early modern world. An exhibition in Leiden’s Museum Boerhaave posed similar questions about Dutch botany and its place in a growing ‘republic of letters’. We also visited the small temporary wing of the Rijksmuseum (still under renovation) and the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague (then housing works from the Mauritshuis), where we interrogated such deceptively familiar images as Rembrandt’s Nightwatch and the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp.

It was difficult to leave the group mid-stream when I assumed a full-time teaching post at University of Manchester (Art History and Visual Studies) from 1 January 2014.  The months we had together were some of the most memorable of my academic experience to date, and I repeat my gratitude to those who enable these fruitful meetings of minds to take place at The Courtauld.

Edward Wouk

July 2013

2. Dr Katrin J Seyler - 2013

In January 2013, I took over the post as Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Research Forum Fellow from Dr Edward Wouk. Dr Wouk had contributed his expertise on early modern art of the Netherlands to the MA course Visualising Knowledge in the Early Modern Netherlands. I consider it my privilege to have continued the collaboration with Dr Eric Jorink and Professor Joanna Woodall on this stimulating and innovative course, which charted the immense proliferation of images relating to discoveries in the sphere of natural philosophy.

Our students became part of an exchange between the fields of the history of art and the history of science. At the intersection between these disciplines, students developed varied and original research objectives for their own work, which has the potential to shape the future course of inquiries into the production of knowledge and imagery during the early modern period. While the course largely focused on the early modern world of erudite thought, I was able to provide conclusions derived from my own research regarding non-erudite ways of learning and the cognitive structures of non-scholarly contemporaries. I hope that through my participation in seminars, I was able to add a further dimension to the field explored by the course curriculum, and to provide students with a critical perspective on a historiography which privileges erudite forms of knowledge. The MA course was enhanced by the Spring 2013 Friends Lecture Series, during which relevant research on the visualisation of knowledge during the early modern period was presented. Attending these lectures gave me insights into the current state of research on works which relate to my own research interests, such as treatises on artisanal skills as explored by Dr Sven Dupré and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

At these events, I had the chance to share my knowledge of early modern journeymen and their world of ideas with staff of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who in turn brought my attention to an extremely rare, yet completely overlooked, piece of writing by an early eighteenth-century journeyman cabinetmaker. Liz Miller, senior print curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Lizzie Beasley, assistant curator in the fashion and furniture department made it possible for me to view this piece of writing in their collection and supplied me with background material and encouragement to write about this artist and the note he wrote. As a result, I have composed an article which discusses this note (by the cabinetmaker Jacob Arend, written in 1716) in great detail, situating it with early modern journeymen's culture and exploring the note's emotional subtexts. This article is currently under review by the editorial panel of the Victoria and Albert Museum's online journal. Other members of the Victoria and Albert Museum have expressed an interest in my work, and I hope to assist them with the European Galleries project in the near future.

During the course of the fellowship, I also had ample opportunity to refine and develop the research outcomes of my doctoral project. My research at The Courtauld has departed from the case study of the sculptor Johann Eckstein, shifting emphasis towards the sculptor Franz Ertinger (1669-1747) and his journal of his Wanderschaft, the travelling period young artisans undertook after taking on the status of journeymen. Based on an examination of the journal's manuscript, which is kept at the Bavaria State Archive in Munich, I have been able to establish that Franz Ertinger wrote his journal during his Wanderschaft, rather than retrospectively, as previously assumed. Thus, my work as Andrew W. Mellon fellow has unearthed two pieces of artisanal writing which are extremely valuable to the study of text production by early modern journeyman image-makers. Franz Ertinger's journal and Jacob Arend's note stand out among other journals written by early modern craftsmen due to their immediate quality. So far, these are the only texts known to me which were written by journeymen immediately prior to, or during, their travels. Therefore, they can produce important insights into the cognitive and emotional state of an early modern journeyman. An analysis of Franz's journal, and his relationship to a wider community of artisanal learning which I have called the Republic of Tools, has led to a further article, which is ready for review and will be submitted to Res by the end of the fellowship.

My analysis of the journal's manuscript has been influenced by a series of talks given by Professor Peter Stallybrass (14-16 May 2013, The Courtauld Institute of Art). Professor Stallybrass' work on material cultures of reading and writing prompted some interesting questions which led me to examine the manuscript in an astute and creative manner. The resulting observations have proven extremely valuable to my ongoing work on the writings of early modern journeymen.

I also had the opportunity to give a research seminar entitled Making Knowledge in the Republic of Tools – the Mindscape of Early Modern Journeyman Image-makers at The Courtauld Institute of Art (29 April 2013), discussing the structures of learning in the Republic of Tools, for which I received feedback from both faculty and external visitors. On 6 April 2013, I gave a paper at the Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America as part of the session ‘Between Apprentice and Master II’, organised by Professor Gail Feigenbaum (The Getty Research Institute) and Dr Anne Wollett (J. Paul Getty Museum) and backed by the American Academy at Rome. The paper traced the journeyman travels of the Protestant tin-engraver Augustin Güntzer, exploring how his experiences could have become part of the heritage of the Republic of Tools.

During the spring term of the academic year 2012/13, I designed and delivered the second-year undergraduate course Artists' Voices Across History (Texts and Contexts). The course introduced students to the writings of early modern artists, discussing the relevance of texts produced by both canonical and non-canonical image-makers for the history of art. Students learnt to examine the correlations between the study of artists' “voices” and concepts which explore cognitive and narrative structures, such as Foucault's episteme and Lyotard's grand narratives. In informal assignments, my students displayed a great eagerness to explore the subject area of early modern artists' writings independently and conducted research in the manuscript department of the British Library and in the special collections of the Royal Academy. They synthesised their research in highly original ways and presented it coherently both in writing and in group presentations. Given the opportunity, I would like to teach this course again in the future.

I believe that my work at The Courtauld Institute of Art, as enabled by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has been highly beneficial to my development as an early career scholar, and I hope that The Courtauld, in turn, has benefited from my activities as the Andrew W. Mellon Research Forum Fellow for 2013.

Katrin J Seyler

July 2013


Previous Reports

pdf icon Mellon MA 2011-12 report

pdf icon Postdoctoral Fellowship (Mellon MA) 2011-12 report

pdf icon
Mellon MA 2010-11 report
pdf icon Postdoctoral Fellowship (Mellon MA) 2010-11 report

pdf icon Mellon MA 2009-10 report
pdf icon Postdoctoral Fellowship (Mellon MA) 2009-2010 report

pdf icon Mellon MA 2008-09 Aesthetic Body report
pdf icon Mellon MA 2008-09 Arts in Exile report
pdf icon Postdoctoral Fellowship (Mellon MA) 2008-09 report

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