Caroline Arscott, “Dyeing, Bleaching, Printing: Morris and Abundance”
This paper will focus on the poetics of the indigo-discharge printing process used by William Morris for his printed textiles experimentally in the 1870s and for commercial production through Morris & Co in the 1880s. We see from Millais’s studies of figures defined by swathes of white linen in Waking (1865), Sleeping (1866), The Sonambulist (1871) and The Little Speedwell’s Darling Blue (1891-2) and from Whistler’s Symphonies in White (1860s) and Nocturnes (1870s) that the issue of whether less could be more was rather central to the encounters between Pre Raphaelitism and Aestheticism. I will be arguing that, in the indigo discharge process Morris found that he could have the superabundance of a Pre-Raphaelite relationship to nature, loading his artefacts with dye upon dye. At the same time through bleaching he could match the wiped slate or misted glass fundamental to aestheticist practice and its aloofness from the particularities of nature. The paradoxical coexistence of (dyed) fullness and (bleached) emptiness will be my central theme. I will investigate the temporality of the patterning of these indigo discharge fabrics, bearing in mind the context of industrial bleaching linked, as it was, to an acceleration in textile production. The discussion of temporality will lead on to a consideration of memory and forgetfulness. I will be assessing Morris’s printed textiles in terms of his ambition to make ornament the bearer of primal forces, historical exemplars, class memory and futurity.
Fabio Barry, “‘Painting in Stone,’ the (al)chemical approach”
The encyclopedist and natural scientist Pliny the Elder had famously castigated the opulent taste for coloured marble revetments, by decrying “coepimus lapide(m) depingere” (HN 35.1.3) – now we have begun to paint on (or “in”) stone. One textual tradition reported an accusative, the other an ablative. On the one hand, Pliny seemed to speak literally of marble as a support, on the other metaphorically as a painterly medium that seemed as mobile as its veining. However, when he also alluded to a technique for inserting, or somehow instilling, markings within the marble surface (HN 35.1.3: “vero maculas, quae non essent in crustis, inserendo unitatem variare”), renaissance interpreters suspected a synthetic process. This suspicion may have inspired Sebastiano del Piombo, but it was not until the 1630s that two Sienese painters, Niccolò Tornioli and Michelangelo Vanni – partly motivated by their admiration for the inlays of Domenico Beccafumi – pioneered a technique for painting “naturally” within marbles, making pigment penetrate the depth of a slab without leaving a drip on its surface. Their oeuvre in this genre included tomb slabs and collectors’ curios, but also extraordinary subjects like the Ten Commandments (which had been written “digito Dei”) and a simulation of the Veronica, an iconic relic whose ultimate value resided in its status as an Acheirpoieton. Their innovations also became the subject of scientific debate over time and across Europe, from Athanasius Kircher in Rome, to The Royal Society in London, to Pierre-Jean Mariette and the Comte de Caylus in Paris. In Naples, the maverick aristocrat and alchemist Raimondo di Sangro, Principe di Sansevero, now claiming inspiration from the freshly rediscovered Herculaneum, devised his own method for producing faux-marble veneers to fit out the family chapel containing the famous “liquid Christ,” and supposedly tinted gems in his palace across the way. However, the last gasp of the liquid-marble tradition was exhaled back in Tuscany where the architect and erudito Leonardo de Vegni channeled chalky water into moulds to cast busts and reliefs that he coloured in the casting with earths and minerals. By effectively fabricating “living rock” from “living water,” De Vegni was heir to a very ancient tradition, but it cannot be coincidence that the solitary example of these natural castings that has come down to us is a bust of the Saviour (1784) based on a famous and apocryphal gem, the so-called “lost emerald” miraculously imprinted with the portrait of Christ.
Matthew C. Hunter, “The Cunning of Sir Sloshua: Reynolds, the Navy and Risk”
First President of the Royal Academy of Arts and leading painter of his generation, Joshua Reynolds has long been associated with British naval power. Backed by steady patronage of a West Country elite centered on the port city of Plymouth, Reynolds sailed to Italy and returned to metropolitan artistic triumph in the early 1750s with Commodore Augustus Keppel who the painter famously styled as an enlightened Apollo Belvedere. Alongside his slew of Classical postures, however, Reynolds also exported from Italy an appetite for secretive paint formulas, nostrums, and experimental pigments. Opposed to what he called a “dry and husky” manner of paint-handling, the President’s unctuous films of paint were to possess, in the words of one contemporary, a textural richness “as if the colours had been composed of cream or cheese.” Yet, as with the clotting and curdling of those dairy products, Reynolds’s paintings were thereby made highly fugitive—their surfaces inclined to flake, discolor, to visibly alter in time. While such practices would earn the President the epithet “Sir Sloshua” among later Pre-Raphaelite critics, this paper aims to reposition Reynolds’s fluid surfaces and their relations to maritime spaces. Building from recent scholarship on the naval origins of the concept of risk, I place the cunning of his project amidst period thinking about accident, gambling and calculated obsolescence, proposing it was not mere coincidence that Reynolds painted his first picture at age twelve on a sail.
Yukio Lippit, “Inky Painting”
The hegemony of the brushstroke in East Asian literati aesthetic discourse has obscured lineages of ink painting practice that foreground the materiality of ink itself. Given its watery base, ink painting has the potential to engender radically different pictorial effects from painting media based in oil or other binders. Although unable to reflect light and usually not associated with the naturalistic depiction of the world,ink painting instead conjures effects of blotting, bleeding, staining, and splashiness that in turn have led to remarkable and under-appreciated ways of generating pictorial meaning. The semantics of such inky effects are especially well highlighted by numerous examples from the corpus of several hundred extant ink painting scrolls dating to Japan’s medieval period (approximately 1200 to 1600), created primarily by monk-painters. The relationship between the materiality of ink painting and meaning-making in medieval Japan, and in East Asian pictorial traditions more generally, is the subject of this paper.
Jeff Moser, “Fire-Star and Secret Hue: The Molten Mind in Song-Yuan Ceramics”
The development of modern porcelain at the industrial-scale kilns of Jingdezhen between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries was predicated on the systematic elimination of chance from the firing process. An emerging mentality of predictive manufacturing categorized uncontrolled effects – starbursts of ruptured minerals, pendulous gobs of molten glaze, sparking lines of crazed glass – under the capacious rubric of yaobian (kiln transformations), which semantically linked these effects to chemical processes that transcended human agency. The articulation of fine-lined designs under clear glazes on pure, white bodies, which became the hallmark of Jingdezhen porcelain, relied upon the continuity of human agency throughout the firing process. The market success of this new regime initiated the long demise of a less prescriptive manufacturing mindset wherein craftsmen operated as catalysts for processes that ultimately exceeded their control. Although the products of this older mindset – the “oil spots” and “hare’s fur” of Jian ware tea bowls, the azure “worm tracks” of Jun ware planters, the crackles of Guan ware celadons – survive in abundance, the mode of their imagining is scantly recorded in the textual record. As such, the modern scholar is tasked with developing a vocabulary sufficient to represent the complex processes of stimulating serendipity that generated these wares. This paper argues for the value of “liquid intelligence” as an analytical heuristic for developing this vocabulary.
Alexander Nemerov, “Rubens’ Adoration of the Magi at the Prado”
Peter Paul Rubens painted a large Adoration of the Magi in 1609 in Antwerp; he greatly expanded the painting twenty years later in Madrid. The figures emerge from his brush in a swirl, seemingly limitless. The pattern and interchange between these figures makes each one distinct yet somehow the result of a common source–a vat or cauldron of paint. Never more wet than now (after a recent restoration), the painting invites meditations about artistic process as perhaps few other pictures so boldly do: process as thoughtless flow; process as the opposite of accomplishment, finish, and grace (though it contains all these things); and process as the opposite of history (though it contains that too).
Jennifer Roberts, “Veins of Commerce: Nature-Printed Currency in Colonial North America”
Benjamin Franklin, in collaboration with the botanist Joseph Breintnall, developed a technique for producing nature-printed paper currency in the 1730s. In the forty years following, much of the paper money circulating through the mid-Atlantic colonies featured elegant prints of maple, sage, parsley, blackberry, and other leaves. The delicate and random vein structures of the leaves could not be engraved by hand, and therefore served as effective anti-counterfeiting protection. Liquid intelligence informs these notes at every level, from the veins as natural structures for the movement of moisture through the leaf to the economic “circulation” enabled by paper currency. The notes are also exemplary demonstrations of the liquidities that determine the very act and art of printing – from the liquid metal and plaster used to cast the leaves to the very notion of the printed line as a channel. And Franklin’s notes are revealingly poised on the edge of a fundamental ambiguity in the concept of liquidity: on the one hand, it connotes an aleatory, material, fluid activity beyond the grasp of rational systems; on the other hand, it connotes a state of controlled and predictable financial convertibility.
Itay Sapir, “Contained Liquidity: Fluid Intelligence and Rock-Solid Framing in the Port Scenes of Claude Lorrain”
Gilles Deleuze has famously claimed that the seventeenth century, usually known for its rigorous and foundationalist scientific aspirations, also produced an epistemological Baroque, embodied by the figure of the fold. Recent studies, showing that even Descartes and Newton could be described as Baroque, remind us how ambiguous and dialectic the epistemology of the so-called “Scientific Revolution” in fact was, and call for a re-evaluation of the aesthetic aspect of these ambiguities and tensions. Substituting for Deleuze’s fold and straight line, liquidity and solidity could also serve as productive metaphors for seventeenth-century intelligence and its discontents. Historically, the emergence of fluid aesthetics could be read as a critique of Renaissance ideals: firmness, stability and measurability. Claude Lorrain’s port scenes are a case in point: Claude repeatedly depicts the sea as a liquid entity contained in – and contained by – a frame of sumptuous, rock-solid architecture, but subtly subvert the hierarchy of values such compositions might be understood to validate.