Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Passez-moi l'absinthe...

Le banc d’orfèvre
It's time for a change topic wise. I have a summer project to do and guess what? I've chosen another awkward one. The Research Project, we students are told,  'is your first piece of extended, independent research. It draws on the methods, issues and skills that have been raised in the Research Skills seminars and in the Core Course.'

It continues, 'the Research Project is principally concerned with the PROCESS of research rather than solely with the RESULTS of that process. It might have a practical or applied focus, for example, it could be based on a museum or a gallery, an exhibition or arts policy. Or it might focus on a particular work of art that explicitly raises questions of interpretation'.

So therefore they are more interested in the how and the why than the actual results. Still, I think it would be better to do something really challenging. When I was in Paris over Easter I visited the Museum of the Renaissance at Chateau d'Ecouen and discovered that they have recently restored and redisplayed a rather intriguing item. It has its own specific space and they have created an interactive information centre specifically for it.

Regarding this crazy, putting ideas out there, don't expect any answers in this post. I'm merely throwing questions around and would value any expert feedback. Metalwork, marquetry, 16th century scientific instruments - all this is out of my comfort zone. As well as the main secondary sources being in French, I've yet to find the primary sources which I guess will be in German or Latin. This partly why I'm so intrigued. The object is an exquisitely decorated wire drawing machine which originated in Nuremberg. This was the start of a very long historical journey to its current location. It is interesting for many reasons and I have put some questions together which will be the basis of my project:

1. Museum

- It has moved around Paris a lot over the past few 100 years, from the Museum of the Middle Ages to Chateau d'Ecouen
- The museum has invested in it in terms of display technology / Museum has been working with various partners
- What were their aims and objectives, motives?

2. Object

- It combines arts and science, technology, ethnography, culture and religion
- Iconographically the marquetry decoration hasn't been fully explained
- Technically it hasn't been worked out; its associated parts are on display with it but even so bits are missing.
- Some parts of it have been explained and examples of its use are given, eg shaping wire in precious metals for tapestry, jewellry, filligree, and other wires for musical instruments, but what else could it have been used for?
- This object is stunning and as far as I can see unique. Why? Were there others like it? Where are they?

3. Provenance

- It originated in Germany so why is it in Paris?
- Who made it, for whom?
- Might there be some connections to be made with museums in Dresden and Nuremberg?

4. Previous research

- One book, in French. It appears unknown outside France
- There are some technical papers in English regarding wire drawing machines
- The press pack, in French, with information for general purpose publications - from Jan 2011
- Are there more research papers on it, extensive literature search required

5. Questions

- Specifically regarding the restoration, this must have generated interest in 2011. Has it been successful? Number of visitors up? What were their aims?
- Seems to be lack of interest from English speaking world? Why? Why was the book only in French?
- Wire drawing techniques generally? What did people like Biringuccio write about it? Illustrations of wire benches in use?
- Why was it made? Did the designer make anything else? He incorporates a self portrait into the decoration? A mark of an artist, not a craftsman? It is a art object with a very practical purpose.
- What do some of the images on the bench mean?
- Importance of the Reformation on social / technological developments?
- Place of 'Germany' (Head of State would have been Electorate of Saxony) in Northern Reformation art /craft / design / technology, what does this piece say about this?
- Former Eastern Germany art historical research issues - book looks relevant for both this and the Court

6. Action plan

- Would want to see an actual wire drawer in action - handcrafted metal worker to be approached
- Contact the curators for information/stats
- Find out if there are any in London! People at V&A might know - metalworking to be explored generally
- Images from BL, wherever

So feel free to get in touch! Merci!

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