CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Workshop: Catalysts of knowledge. Early modern cultures of collecting

Symposium: 15 December 2015

The history of collecting in Early Modern Europe has received a lot of interest in recent years. Most existing research focuses either on art collections in relation to the art market and connoisseurship or on the role of scholarly collections in relation to global trade networks and new scientific knowledge. Largely ignored however, are the collections of practitioners such as merchants, artists, and artisans. Often avid collectors themselves, these practitioners played a vital role in early modern knowledge economies characterized by an increasing market for material objects that were considered to be transmitters of knowledge. Also, practitioners frequently played an important part in the formation and conservation of princely and scholarly collections. Central to this workshop is the role of practitioners in the culture of collecting in early modern Europe. Of particular interest are the processes through which collected objects became sources of artisanal, artistic, or scientific knowledge and innovation. Users and beholders of collections were invited to observe, investigate, depict, and question individual objects and their interrelationships, and as such, collections became ‘catalysts of knowledge’.

This workshop aims to bring together approaches from the domains of art history, the history of science, and material culture studies. Histories of collections are particularly suitable to integrate methods from different disciplines. The material-based approach that is inextricably linked to the history of collecting also opens new vistas about the relationship between material objects and theory. Research on collections can shed new light on both art theory and knowledge theory. How can the culture of collecting be related to the striving for and trust in objective knowledge? How did the display of art and other objects in collections relate to the (religious) image debates? What was the role of visualization in relation to collecting, art theory, and knowledge practices? Can collections be understood in a culture of question?