CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Shaped by Nature, Forged by Art: Image, Object, Knowledge, and Commerce in Early Modern Europe

Symposium: 21 May 2016

The often complex, always productive, and sometimes vexed relationship between nature and art is a central theme of early modern European culture and of artistic production in particular. Where, in a visual culture devoted to naturalism, does art begin and nature end? If mimicking nature is the most noble of artistic aims, what is the relationship between the generative powers of art and the fecundity of nature? Long the ape of nature, art vied with nature in the early modern era to the point of outstripping it—or at least trying.

The twinned tropes of the artistry of nature and the naturalism of art populate artistic discourse and practice throughout the early modern era. This event, a two-day workshop sponsored by Myers Funds and the Department of Art History at Northwestern University, will bring together some of the most prominent early modern art historians working on this and related topics (see preliminary list of participants and titles), from Europe and North America. Most but not all of the papers will address topics in northern European early modern art theory and practice. Commentators will be invited to represent adjacent fields (history of science; medieval art history; Italian art history). The structuring questions range from those mentioned at the outset of this prospectus to: How did objects or practices that conjoined art and nature foster knowledge—natural historical knowledge, for example, or ethnographic knowledge? How did the early modern market support or otherwise respond to such works? What is the relationship between image and object, seen from the perspective of the twinned powers of art and nature?


Marisa Bass, Washington University in St. Louis
Insect Artifice: The Origins of Entomology in the Early Modern Netherlands

Stephanie Dickey, Queen’s University
Glycera’s Garlands: Painting, Flowers, and the Rivalry of Art and Nature

Robert Felfe, Universität Hamburg
Arts and Craft in Nature’s Workshop. Consequences of a Widespread Topos

Jessica Keating, Carleton College
From this Love Springs: Nicolas Pfaff’s Goblet of Rhinoceros Horn

Marisa Mandabach, Harvard University
Mythologizing Matter: Images of Spontaneous Generation in Rubens

José Ramon Marcaida, University of Cambridge
Pictorial Wit and Still Life Painting in Early Seventeenth-century Spain

Peter Parshall, Commentator