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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

POSTPONED UNTIL MAY 2016 Visual Evidence: Authority, Attribution and the Politics of Connoisseurship (ca. 1750 - 1900) Workshop

18th March 2016, 09:30 to 17:00, Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study, Dr Thomas Stammers

In recent years, there has been an explosion of scholarly interest in the practices by which the fine-arts have been historically collected, classified and institutionally legitimized. In the process the historiography of art history has been dramatically revised. A host of studies have identified the elusive but pivotal role of commercial networks, dealers and critics in the maintenance and extension of ‘art worlds’. Dealers and critics acted as proxies for plutocrats and for governments at a time when the quest for prestigious artworks was a source of acute geopolitical competition. This workshop will explore the political, economic and juridical questions related to the authentication and ownership of works of art in the heyday of nation-formation, imperialism, globalization and world war.
The period 1870-1920 was decisive in producing new forms of knowledge and a new politics surrounding works of art. Firstly, scientific and subjective procedures were proposed for identifying art and artists, with intense ideological significance being attached to matters of style and method. Secondly, the practice of art history was transformed by the expertise embodied in museums, university departments and the specialist art press on both sides of the Atlantic. Thirdly, new technologies of reproduction fashioned new ways of documenting art, changing the protocols for proof as well as the opportunities for deception. Fourthly, legislation governing cultural heritage evolved on both a national and international level, with fierce debate over plunder, preservation and restitution. Lastly, trade and contact with non-European civilizations created lively and exotic new collecting fields, whose contents and procedures had to be urgently defined. These structural trends together created an anxious and volatile environment, with inexperienced buyers, unscrupulous dealers, fragmented approaches, rivalries between national institutions, and a market flooded with frauds.

This two-day workshop will be led by Thomas Stammers (History) but is open to scholars from all departments in the university. It will draw on the participation of resident IAS fellow for Epiphany term, John Brewer, and will feature a number of distinguished external speakers, including Flamminia Genari-Santori (Florence, Syracuse), Mark Westgarth (University of Leeds), Barbara Pezzini (Burlington Magazine), Francesco Ventrella (University of Sussex), Charlotte Drew (University of York) and Silvia Davoli (Strawberry Hill, London), and experts in the collecting of Islamic and Asian art, including Nick Pearce (University of Glasgow). As well as providing a forum for established and emerging scholars, the workshop will include contributions from local Durham collections, such as the Oriental Museum and the Bowes Museum.

The workshop will be held in the Senate Room of University College (Castle) and the IAS seminar room on the 17th-18th March 2016. Attendance for members of the university will be free, but there will be a small charge for outside visitors.


For further information please contact Dr Thomas Stammers

Contact for more information about this event.