Displaying Art in the Early Modern Period (1450–1750): Exhibiting practices and exhibition spaces

Pamela Bianchi, Paris 8 University, pamelabianchi1@gmail.com

Over the years, despite the increased interest in spatial issues and some iconic studies (Luckhurst, Haskell, Koch), little attention has been paid to the long-term history of the exhibition space and exhibition-making practices. Before the appearance of the first painting exhibitions and the spaces specially designed to show collections, the idea of showing art was mainly related to the habit of dressing up spaces for political and religious commemorations, cultural festivals and marketing strategies. Thus, various venues (palaces, cloisters, façades, squares, pavilions, auction houses, fairs, shops and so forth), where sociability was performed and experienced, ended up becoming temporary and privileged platforms of exhibiting.

What were those places and events? What aesthetic, cultural, social and political discourses intersected with the early idea of exhibition space? How did showing art shape a new vocabulary within these events and, vice versa, how did these occasions condition exhibiting practices? Who were the producers, actors and spectators of these processes, devices and spaces? How can we relate early exhibition logic with art history and exhibition design theories? Which kinds of sources (treatises, depictions) are involved?

The panel proposes to reconsider those events and habits that contributed to defining exhibition-making practices and to shaping the imagery of the exhibition space in the early modern period (1450–1750). Also, it seeks to define a new geography of exhibiting, not limited to Europe but expanded to include exhibiting practices in the early modern Americas, Africa and Asia. It encourages connections between art history, exhibition studies and architectural history, and studies crossing micro-histories and long-term changes, in order to open new perspectives of study and to foster historiographical research through an interdisciplinary approach.

Speakers & Abstracts

A Curious Collection of Pictures’: A 1697 Edinburgh auction

Antonia Laurence-Allen (National Trust for Scotland)

On 3 March 1697, an exhibition of pictures opened at an ‘auction house’ in the Land Mercat, opposite Gladstone’s Land on Edinburgh’s High Street. The advert read: ‘A Curious Collection of Pictures, of all sorts and sizes, some fit for Halls, Stair-Cases, Chambers and Closets’, and went on to list dates, times and terms of the sale, including: ‘whoso bids most is the Buyer; but if any difference arise by two or more claiming any Lot, then the Picture be re-exposed’. A similar advert appeared a few years later in Glasgow, and was held on the second storey of the trades land in the Salt Mercat. We use the 1697 original advert/catalogue (the earliest yet found) to understand what this exhibition of paintings might have looked like. The paintings listed are predominantly by Dutch and Belgian artists, illustrating the strong networks between the Scots and the Low Countries during this period. The catalogue listing also hints at a connoisseurship – paintings are often noted as ‘a fine piece’ or ‘neatly painted’, for example – while, at the same time, using language that caters to a range of potential clients, which also suggests that there was an active market for such an exhibition. Finally, the vast collection of 441 paintings listed in the catalogue implies that a large space was used for display. This paper uses what we know about the spaces around Gladstone’s Land during the 1690s, and offers ideas on what an ‘auction house’ experience might have been.

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Domestic space and the display of art

Hila Manor (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Among the profound developments that characterised the early modern period, one may point to a shift that concerns material culture, where a growing significance of objects to the making and defining of the self in European society could be observed. This was felt strongly within the private sphere, which could afford a flexible movement of objects, both physically and conceptually. Curious objects attracted spectators wherever they were displayed, yet in the domestic space, they were undividedly accessible. Spectators were able to get a closer look at an object’s details, to touch it and feel its different textures, and even smell the aromas it might diffuse.

This proposed paper seeks to underline the role of the domestic display of art in an era most markedly signified by the acquisition and collection of objects for private use. The materials that will be discussed are those which were displayed in the houses of non-aristocrats, as this paper aims to point at tendencies that characterised growing numbers of European society, and not just its leading decile. It will include the display practices of houses of prominent figures such as Jacques Coeur, the French successful merchant and government official, along with those of minority groups, such as the Jewish communities. Jews, as vital members of the European economy and culture, produced distinctive objects of their own, such as spice containers and large-sized architectural rings, which held ritual as well as decorative functions. When combined, these cases will shed light on the role of domestic space in the history of art display.

The Ephemeral Façade of Cardinal de Solis’ Palace: Politics and aesthetics in 18th century Rome

Ginevra Odone (Université de Lorraine, La Sapienza Università di Roma)

Francesco de Solis (1713–76), Archbishop of Seville, lived in Rome for some time by renting Palazzo Spada in Piazza Colonna. He was sent to the Eternal City by Charles III, King of Spain (1759–88), to make arrangements with Lorenzo Ganganelli (1705–74) and to support his candidacy in the papal conclave. The Spanish sovereign wanted to suppress the Society of Jesus, but to do so he needed the support of the Christian pontiff. De Solis succeeded in obtaining an agreement with Ganganelli who, once he had become Pope with the name of Clement XIV in 1769, suppressed the Jesuit order. That same year, de Solis commissioned an ephemeral apparatus for the façade of Palazzo Spada. The official reason was to celebrate his promotion as cardinal, despite the fact that the nomination actually took place many years earlier under Benedict XIV (1740–58). In reality, this structure celebrated the election of the new pontiff and his relationships with Spain. The project, designed by the architect Nicola Giansimoni (1727–1800) and completed by the inscription of the scholar Agostino Mariotti (1724–1806), is displayed in the engraving of Giovanni Ottaviani (c. 1735–1808). Through the symbology of the decorations (coats of arms, inscriptions and portraits) and the reorganisation of Piazza Colonna with fountain ornaments and orchestra stages, Cardinal de Solis wanted to dress up the palace for a specific political commemoration, using art to show the relationship between the Roman Church and the Spanish kingdom. Based on the sources found, the presentation analyses the message behind this ephemeral façade, studying the actors and spaces involved and their historical context.

Displaying Art in a Sacred Space: The artworks for the Triunfo of St Ferdinand in Seville Cathedral (1671)

Carmen González-Román (University of Málaga)
Hilary Macartney (University of Glasgow)

The volume of Fiestas de Sevilla, on the celebrations for the canonisation of St Ferdinand III of Castile in Seville Cathedral in 1671, is considered to be one of the finest books of the Spanish Baroque. Its text and accompanying etchings recorded the ephemeral architecture and decoration carried out for the Cathedral chapter. The artists and designers involved in the constructions in wood, plaster and painted canvas, were amongst the best known in the city and included the painters Juan de Valdés Leal and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, the architect Bernardo Simón Pineda and the sculptor Pedro Roldán. The etchings, by Valdés Leal and Matías de Arteaga, combined with the visual sensibility of Fernando de la Torre Farfán, author of the text and one of the canons of the Cathedral, in conveying the aspirations and the challenges of realising the scheme. The main monument, or Triunfo, designed by Valdés Leal and Simón Pineda, was erected between four pillars of the central nave just inside the great doors of the Cathedral and could be seen from the street outside. This paper examines the role of Seville Cathedral as an exhibition space and the collaboration between artists involved in the construction and decoration of one of the most impressive ephemeral monuments of the Spanish early modern period, which combined paintings, sculptures, emblems and inscriptions as a multi-layered display. It also focuses on the spectatorship by recovering the inherent performativity of the large and impressive folding plate representing the Triunfo in Torre Farfán’s Fiestas de Sevilla volume.

The Discourse of the Salon

Isabelle Pichet (Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières - UQTR)

Critical writings about the 1753 Salon of the Académie royale in Paris reveal that the type of display suggested by the artist/curator Jacques André Portail guided the reception and organised the perception of the artworks exhibited. In this paper, I show how Portail’s approach to hanging artworks guided the art-viewing public in using its powers of deduction, its reason, and thus, to form an opinion. The relation between the artwork and the visitor was not coincidental, but was established by the discourse of the exhibition, which was revealed in the arrangement of the works. The use of the space of the ‘salon carré’ disclosed bonds or tensions between paintings, which made it possible for the discursive capacity of the exhibition to materialise. Elements of comparison, by which the works’ similarities and differences were key, gave visitors the opportunity to exert their judgement and to construct opinions about the works of art on display, but furthermore, developed their views of the world. The regular attendance of the Salon by a large and eclectic crowd raises the question of the discursive capacity of this public space, as well as its effects on the opinion of viewers and indirectly of public opinion – an important characteristic of French culture in the second half of the 18th century.

'A Treasure of Riches and Curiosities’: Politics of display at the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, 1680–1789

Barbara Lasic (Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London)

Founded in the early 17th century by King Henry IV, the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, was a seminal body in the management and deployment of furnishings across French royal residences. Both an administrative body and a network of conveniently located storage facilities, it housed a permanent supply of goods produced by the royal manufactures and workshops that had raised French art and craftsmanship to a high level of perfection, and had become an example to the rest of Europe. Administered by high-ranking intendants who were often enlightened collectors in their own right, the Garde-Meuble had a number of ‘boutiques’ for the conservation and repair of objects, but also dedicated display spaces where foreign ambassadors and dignitaries could come and admire the unrivalled quality of France’s furnishings and objects d’art. The Garde-Meuble had therefore a dual mission: to sustain and stimulate France’s luxury industry, and to promote the glorification of the Crown and the exaltation of the power of the monarch. The paper will contextualise the existence and management of the Garde-Meuble within the context of France’s cultural policies. It will examine the identity of the Garde-Meuble exhibition spaces as hybrids between museal sites and commercial premises, and interrogate the role of its intendants as proto-curators. In doing so, the paper hopes to illuminate the fluid boundaries that existed between public and private, royal and personal property, and address some of the complex, interlocking and occasionally conflicting relationships that operated between the Crown and its manufactures.

Royal Spectacles: Exhibition practices and the Académie in 18th century France

Mandy Paige-Lovingood (North Carolina State University)

Scholars argue that prior to the 18th century, French art exhibition was a top-down approach wherein display was dictated and organised by the monarchy for privileged elites. And, only following the formation of the Académie and its subsequent salons, was a democratic approach undertaken upon the shift from Versailles to Paris. Thomas Crow writes that the layout of early salons was ‘pêle-mêle arrangés’ and failed to provide a coherent narrative to spectators (Thomas Crow, Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985). Still, Crow details the arrangement of the Salon of 1699 as based on size, placing history paintings at eye level and the remaining genres above and below. While such a description appears haphazard, when examined through an academy lens, one finds that the layout replicated the Académies genre hierarchy. Hence, a re-examination of the Salon de 1699 in relation to the rules, regulations and academicians of the Académie is necessary. While previous scholarship sheds light on exhibition practices, we lack research on how academy rules were reconstituted as exhibition practices, and to what effect it had on display. Hence, I present a historiography of 18th-century exhibition practices, arguing that the new ‘democratic’ practices remained couched in the Crowns top-down approach. Acting as a proxy of monarchical power, the Académie employed their ranking system to maintain their grip on regulating the visual arts. In doing so, exhibition-making practices can be firmly rooted within the Académie and viewed as a tool for bolstering the monarchys prestige to the public, rather than as a means for elevating public taste.

The Imagery of the Exhibition Space in the Early Modern Period: Reasons for a research

Pamela Bianchi (Paris 8 University/IESA)

Before the appearance of the first painting exhibitions and the spaces specially designed to show collections, the idea of showing art was mainly related to the habit of dressing up spaces for political commemorations, religious festivals and marketing strategies. Palaces, cloisters, façades, squares, shops (where sociability was performed and experienced) were temporary and privileged platforms of exhibiting.

What aesthetic, cultural, social and political discourses intersected with the early idea of exhibition space? How did showing art shape a new vocabulary within these events and, vice versa, how did these occasions condition exhibiting practices? How can we relate early exhibition logic with art history and exhibition design theories?

This paper contextualises the questions above by reconsidering those events and habits that contributed to shaping the imagery of the exhibition space and defining exhibition-making practices in the early modern period. It probes connections between art history, exhibition studies and architectural history, explores micro-histories and long-term changes, eventually seeking to trace the origins of the exhibition space in the first pioneering strategies of exhibiting.



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