CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Call for papers: Questions of ornaments (15th-18th century): 3. Three-dimensional art

On 16 and 17 February 2012 IRPA-KIK will organize its 13th Art History Seminar, Questions of ornaments (15th-18th century): 3. Three-dimensional art. The organizers now call for paper proposals.

The study of ornament enjoys an obvious renewed interest since around 15 years now. Far to be only considered as a directory of motives likely to enhance a grammar of styles, ornament appears today as a surprisingly complex phenomenon. The vague definition of the ornament concept, almost elusive, is a reflection of his multifaceted nature. Next to its esthetical role, recent studies emphasized the symbolical, anthropological, political and socio-economical functions assumed by ornament. In addition, going through all artistic fields in different ways and degrees, ornament cannot be reduced to a specific artistic category. This transversal character of ornament, linked with this typical dependence to other artistic mediums, has often contributed to classify ornament as useless and marginal additions, even to minority and femininity. Nowadays this characteristic of ornament seems to offer a new exploring field, allowing to revisit our current perception of art’s hierarchy. Thinking early modern ornament requires indeed to understand its connections with the different artistic genres.

The objective of this series of three conferences, launched in December 2009, is to take stock of the actual state of the arts, as well as to open new perspectives for research. More particularly, the point is to engage in a theoretical and methodological reflection, fed by particular case studies, on the questions of epistemological and historiographical nature. After a reflection on the links between ornament and architecture (Namur, FUNDP, December 2009, and between ornament, painting and graphic arts (Louvain-la-Neuve, UCL, February 2011,, this third conference will be dedicated to the three-dimensionality of sculpture in its broad perspectives. It is between the autonomy of sculpture and its dependence to a given function and to a whole that will be tackled the questions of ornaments in this conference.

This reflection leads us to consider a number of questions:

  • What are the necessary conditions for sculpture to become ornament or decor?
  • How do sculptural and ornament plastically interact in a given program?
  • In connection with other arts, which sense is given to three-dimensional ornament in a program?
  • How does ornament get along with the figurative values of a iconographic program?
  • How does ornament appropriate different materials and techniques?
  • What interactions characterize the relations between the gratuitousness of ornament and the usage of the object? What links can be established between materials, forms and usages?
  • How relevant are still the interactions between notions of style, fashion and ornament?
  • The idea of style grammar based on ornament is still relevant today? How to characterize differently the relation between ornament and style?

The intent will not be to position sculpture in the architecture as part of architectonic element (subject already discussed in the first conference), nor to consider the theme of “decorative arts” as artistic category according to the 19th century definition. While keeping in mind the need to address ornament through the variety of artistic fields, we will ensure to consider ornament through the volume of sculpture rather than a painted decor on a three-dimensional element. We will avoid to get stuck into directories of motives and sources or in the identification of drawn models which would not feed the methodological reflection we want to take into account in this conference.

Each paper, of about thirty minutes, should provide a methodological and theoretical support to allow to take stock on questions linked to the definition and status of ornament in the early modern age.

Title and paper proposals should be sent by August 30th 2011 latest, via email (Word document in attachment) to Caroline Heering :

Organization committee:

Ralph Dekoninck (UCL)
Caroline Heering (UCL)
Pierre-Yves Kairis (IRPA)
Michel Lefftz (FUNDP)