Saturday, 17 May 2014

Sie sind hier, oder ... : A Dissertation Update

'Germania florescens' 1586
It's about time I did a dissertation update, even if to just place myself on the map; probably right in the middle of 'there be dragons'.  As part of the dissertation process we have to tell our fellow students where we are and what we've been up to so this partly arises out of that presentation.

As an aside I've been blown away by the sheer spread of topics that our little group have chosen, and given that this process is being replicated all over the country by History of Art students, the prospect of intellectual endeavour is dizzying. For instance, we have the relationship of Joshua Reynolds and Admiral Keppel, Holography, 'objects as ruins in the work of the British moderns', Imogen Cunningham and modernism in flowers, the Berwick Church murals and, finally, an exploration of temporality in a Niagra Falls inspired installation. And that is just a handful of the ideas flying around.

Continuing with the theme from my summer report, I am researching the wire drawing bench of the Elector of Saxony. My working title, 'Germania florescens: Illustrating Elector August I’s Saxony' suggests the myriad academic routes that this is currently taking. However I am trying to steer clear of an unsatisfactory superficial treatment of all issues –from European wars of religion, polemical printed responses, technical aspects of wiredrawing, marquetry design, marquetry workshops of Augsburg, metal in Nuremberg, mining in Saxony, the tournament in court spectaculars etc etc. So where is this title going?

The ‘Flourishing Germany’ in the title comes from a print by Jost Amman in 1586. I thought this an interesting expansion, yet I had reservations about whether it was too late for my purposes. My tutor has suggested that I keep it in mind; the idea of a flourishing Germany is a productive angle and if this was published in the year of August’s death then it plausibly emerges from the same or a very closely related cultural milieu. He says.

Josh Amman is probably going to turn out to be the most influential character regarding the iconography of the bench. As Stephanie Deprouw has already mentioned in a blog post, she sees his stylistic influence on the decoration of the bench. Given that this print includes the mining, hunting, landscape and warfare, and these themes are also depicted in marquetry, I wonder whether it is reasonable to argue that the bench partly illustrates August’s desire for a flourishing Saxony? This high profile workshop piece would have been seen by important people within and outside the area, therefore, how far was it a propaganda piece?

All my reading  - about Dresden and art, history of marquetry, jousting and tournaments, reformation Germany, family feuds and the Holy Roman Empire, other German courts - has been illuminating but I remain struck by the ideas I had in the National Gallery. When I announced in class that I have been collecting information about the Nazi's pet art history theory, there were some blank faces; this isn't without its ideological dangers. However the more I read about how kunstgeographie, stripped of certain unscientific elements, has evolved, the more it fascinate me. Naturally only a small number of people are working in this area and they are generally architects and design historians. Having read around Thomas daCostaKaufmann’s theory of kunstgeographie, I believe it deserves re evaluation in light of the geographically specific piece I am working on. It also emphasises the Saxon propaganda.

Anyway I now need to start explaining what is so interesting about kunstgeographie, so that I can enlighten my tutor.

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