FOCUS 1600. 2nd Symposium on Mannerist Architecture and Fine Arts 2023: Moments of the Irrational in German Art around 1600 (Aschaffenburg, 8-10 sept. 2023)

FOCUS 1600. 2nd Symposium on Mannerist Architecture and Fine Arts 2023: Moments of the Irrational in German Art around 1600

Call for papers
Starting with pictorial and architectural production from the period around 1600 in the former electoral residence of Aschaffenburg, a series of conferences with the title « Focus 1600 » will be held. These conferences will attempt to raise the awareness of German art of this era, as well as to critically question and sharpen the profile of the concept of Mannerism from the broadest possible cultural-historical research perspective.
Following the successful start in 2021, the conferences in this series will continue to be held every two years, with the second conference to take place from the 8th to the 10th of September 2023. This conference will be dedicated to moments of irrationality in the art and architecture of the German-speaking lands between 1550 and 1650. At the same time, it will move beyond the Holy Roman Empire.
Frame topic 2023: Moments of the Irrational in German Art around 1600
Above the roofs of the old town of Aschaffenburg, the twisted turret of the Jesuit Church can be seen from afar, its six pillars standing at angles. This is an expression of the highest level of craftsmanship, but at the same time also a key example of skillful rule-breaking and can therefore serve as a figurative motto for this year’s conference. The conference is intended to be at the forefront in exploring ways that art deliberately breaks rules, provokes and tests new ways of experiencing and seeing. Examples from art production of the Holy Roman Empire in the decades around 1600 will provide a framework for the conference, viewed through the lens of comparative cultural studies.
One of the most important manifestations of the 16th-century artform known as Mannerism is the emergence of the strongly irrational grotesque, which developed almost in secret through the medium of book illumination. Here, even before 1500, ‘drôlerie’ was gradually transformed into the formal language of the grotesque with its antique-Italian influence. Notably, this transition took place as a purely artistic process inherent in the genre and largely removed from theory, but exclusively under the eyes of high-ranking, wealthy and educated patrons.

A comprehensive, almost encyclopaedic knowledge is one of the prerequisites for understanding such a playful procedure that breaks through the accepted norms and at the same time demonstrates superiority in dealing with artistic and art-technological theories, traditions and innovations, as well as with the stylistic and motivational repertoire of the various artists’ oeuvres. This knowledge referenced contemporary scientific discourse (not least regarding alchemy), newly discovered continents, materials sciences, historiography in general and the history of art and artists in particular, as well as art theory and theories and discourses of style.
In addition, there was an awareness of the increased competition between the arts, artists and workshops in the context of the intensified political-cultural rivalries between the courts of princes, city republics and imperial cities. At the same time, demands increased for an equally intellectualised and sensualised art scene, as well as for precious, exclusive court and city collections, reflected in the phenomenon of the Kunstkammer. Here the unusual and abnormal, the curious and the monstrous, had always existed, but were now brought into focus.

A chronological and extremely revealing parallel was the definition of emblematics, as a genre, as set out in the groundbreaking publication of Andrea Alciati’s « Emblematum liber » (Augsburg 1531). This attempted to establish a connection between word and image, as well to create an intellectual community of knowledge between the creators and recipients of literature and visual arts. From the very beginning, it was part of the nature of emblematics not necessarily to impose rigid interpretations, but to allow the audience to think independently, and in doing so to accept an unfinished, ultimately irrational openness of meaning.

Through the lens of cultural studies, we may view mannerism as an artform that deliberately broke the rules. It provoked and tested new ways of experiencing and seeing early modern innovation and knowledge transfer in the fields of culture, economy and technology, as well as the intensified competition between European courts and large cities or city republics. This might also provide a convincing reason why Mannerism remained predominantly an elite phenomenon. As such, it must be evaluated in the context described by Lynette M. F. Bosch in her recently published book « Mannerism, Spirituality and Cognition. The Art of Enargeia » (London/New York 2020). According to this, Mannerism in art is also to be understood as an equivalent to comparable rhetorical forms in the spiritual literature of the Counter-Reformation, including that of the Jesuits. It also served as a vehicle for new spiritual and aesthetic experiences. For Bosch, the specific religious language and rhetoric of the Counter-Reformation therefore represents an essential basis for the equally specific forms of Mannerist art production of the period around 1600. She also opens up additional new perspectives for a closer, differentiated understanding of the phenomenon of Mannerism and its « irrationalisms ».

The conference is a cooperation between the Museums of the City of Aschaffenburg and the Art History Institutes of the Universities of Bonn and Mainz.

Proposals of no more than one manuscript page in German or English are requested for presentations of no more than 30 minutes, each followed by a 15-minute discussion.

The conference languages are German and English.

Travel expenses, accommodation and meals will be covered by the organisers.

Proposals should be based on the topics listed below, but wider developments are acceptable and welcome. If possible, please assign your submission to one or more of the topics below so that we can form thematic groups at the conference.

The contributions will be published in a conference volume, and should be submitted in a timely manner.

Please send your proposals by 2 May 2023 to:
Dr. Thomas Schauerte, Museen der Stadt Aschaffenburg
Prof. Dr. Matthias Müller, Universität Mainz
Prof. Dr. Birgit Ulrike Münch, Universität Bonn

Subject areas:
1. Art in German-speaking areas between 1550 and 1650
2. Retrospective tendencies in architecture and the fine arts around 1600
3. The German bishoprics between Catholic Reform and Counter-Reformation
4. Art in the context of courtly or urban competition
5. Mannerism and mannerisms / style definitions and style discourses / centres and peripheries
6. Mannerism and intermediality
7. Local or regional and early national traditions versus international standards and interweaving
8. Theological and historical literature and emblematics
9. Art and architectural theory
10. The arts in the discourse of the early modern sciences
11. Workshop traditions vs. artistic-technical innovations
12. Architecture and visual arts of the Jesuits. Reassessment of Jesuit innovations and traditions in the German-speaking world
13. Churches, monasteries, chapels and their furnishings
14. Castles, palaces, residences, fortresses and their furnishings
15. Courtly and municipal collections

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