Fall 2005: "Visual Valences: Status of the Artist in Med and Early Mod Europe"

The goal of this seminar is to develop more complex models for conceptualizing the ‘artist’ as practitioner and social agent in Europe from 1200 to 1600. Drawing on an array of primary sources and recent secondary literature, we will examine narratives embedded within late Medieval and Early Modern art histories about the ‘rise of the independent artist’ and the ‘changing status of the artist’. Historical terminology and grades of distinction among practitioners will be defined, as well as variation in usage according to region and time.

We will examine images of labor and note how specific practitioners are ‘named’ and their skills, status and fame represented in inscriptions, chronicles, encomia, and treatises. Attention will be given to the organizations (guilds, confraternities), the socio-economic networks and the conditions that structured artistic employment in major and minor artistic centers, in monastic, communal, and court environments, and in cases of interregional activity.  Clientele and patronage will be examined from the perspective of the practitioner negotiating contracts and forging careers.

We will consider how conceptions about ‘quality’ were defined and regulated through contract and guild control, tied to certain kinds of performativity evident in works of art, and verbalized in assessments and literary praise. The figure of the entrepreneur operating with a ‘signature style’ will be explored. While the focus will be on the visual arts, many of the issues considered are equally applicable to the fields of architecture, literature, and music. Our approach will be interdisciplinary and participants from other fields are welcome.