American Council of Learned Societies

Award Date: February 2011

Summary

Professor of art history Louisa Matthew has been awarded a prestigious American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship for her book project "The Material Renaissance: a history of colorants in Renaissance Venice."  This project is the result of several years of collaboration between Prof. Matthew and Dr. Barbara Berrie, senior conservation scientist at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  This book-length project focuses on six materials used by a wide variety of artisans and sold in the shops of the Venetian color-sellers during the Renaissance period.  The fellowship is awarded for the Sept 2011 - June 2012 academic year.

Abstract

This proposal is for a book-length project that focuses on six materials used by a wide variety of artisans and sold in the shops of the Venetian color-sellers during the Renaissance period. The profession of color-seller was established in Venice during the second half of the 15th century. It was a specialization unique to that city for almost a century, as colorants and related materials were sold in general apothecary shops throughout the rest of Italy and in northern Europe, as they had been for centuries. We have hypothesized elsewhere that the color-sellers' shops were a nexus for artisans who used colorants: a place to purchase, but also a place to share specialized knowledge of materials, both technological and aesthetic, across the traditional boundaries of crafts. We ask whether the traditional "secrets" of craft knowledge were eroded even as artisan trades became more specialized (the color sellers were themselves specialists who emerged from the traditional profession of apothecary); whether ways of understanding materials were altered in the face of increasing demand for luxury goods, the professionalization of artisan knowledge and vocation, the arrival of a new, scientific approach to observing and working with materials emerging out of a traditional craft practice and alchemy, and changing trajectories of commerce and manufacture, including the more rapid dissemination of craft knowledge. Were the nature and behavior of substances more closely observed in the sixteenth century than previously? Were they understood in different ways?