Cultural Contact and the Making of European Art since the Age of Exploration

Cultural Contact and the Making of European Art since the Age of Exploration

Cultural Contact and the Making of European Art since the Age of Exploration

Cultural Contact and the Making of European Art since the Age of Exploration

Synopsis

Claire Farago, University of Colorado at Boulder
Julie Hochstrasser, University of Iowa
Christopher Johns, Vanderbilt University
Carol Mavor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Art historians have long been accustomed to thinking about art and artists in terms of national traditions. This volume takes a different approach, suggesting instead that a history of art based on national divisions often obscures the processes of cultural appropriation and global exchange that shaped the visual arts of Europe in fundamental ways between 1492 and the early twentieth century.

Essays here analyze distinct zones of contact--between various European states, between Asia and Europe, or between Europe and so-called primitive cultures in Africa, the Americas, and the South Pacific--focusing mainly but not exclusively on painting, drawing, or the decorative arts. Each case foregrounds the centrality of international borrowings or colonial appropriations and counters conceptions of European art as a "pure" tradition uninfluenced by the artistic forms of other cultures. The contributors analyze the social, cultural, commercial, and political conditions of cultural contact--including tourism, colonialism, religious pilgrimage, trade missions, and scientific voyages--that enabled these exchanges well before the modern age of globalization.

Contributors:
Claire Farago, University of Colorado at Boulder
Elisabeth A. Fraser, University of South Florida
Julie Hochstrasser, University of Iowa
Christopher Johns, Vanderbilt University
Carol Mavor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Mary D. Sheriff, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Lyneise E. Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Excerpt

Imagine entering a museum for the first time, anxious to learn about European art. You pay the entry fee, pick up a map, and hurry to the works you have come to see. Following the numbered floor plan, you traverse sequential rooms dedicated to different national schools at different historical moments: Italian art of the early Renaissance, 1400–1500, in one suite; Spanish Baroque Painting, 1600–1700, in another. When your circuit seems complete, you again consult the floor plan, just to make sure you have seen it all. And now you notice there is a department of Islamic art one floor up and that the arts of China and Latin America are located in an entirely different building.

The trajectory of this imagined visit implies the primacy of national traditions within Europe and the separation of the arts of Europe from those of other cultures. Walking through the museum, visitors often follow a path much like that traveled in thumbing through a history of world art. Museum and text together emphasize the distinctiveness of art forms, even if the odd label or caption points out that a French artist imitates an Italian precursor or that an English patron collected Chinese porcelain, and even if the occasional museum room or history subchapter focuses on an “international” moment. The divisions that structure both galleries and textbooks are surely heuristic necessities, but they nevertheless obscure processes of cultural appropriation and exchange fundamental to the making of European art.

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