Early Modern Cultures of Copying

10 - 11 June, 2021 — Virtual Conference

Copying was an omnipresent practice throughout the early modern period. Touching on all domains of pictorial, sculptural, architectural, and craft production, it was foundational to workshop practice, the training of artists, and the transmission and circulation of artistic knowledge long before the rise of mechanical reproduction. Printing, nevertheless, looms large over discussions of copying from the late fifteenth century to the early seventeenth century. Its emergence has led scholars to promote dichotomies between the manual and mechanical as well as the artistic and indexical, often casting reproductive practices as derivative and banal. Focusing on Western Europe as well as broader cross-cultural and transregional exchanges, this conference, originally planned for May 2020, seeks to redress this issue and shed new light on practices of graphic copying. Specifically, it aims to go beyond the classic framework of emulation and imitation and the connoisseurial topos of replica and forgery to look at how copying was a fundamental constructive act, epistemic operation, and generative practice, one that spawned new thinking and ideas, as well as new modes of artistic engagement. The conference also seeks to interrogate the essential physical processes of reproduction themselves, which have often fallen outside traditional investigations of meaning, and to understand how different realms of graphic production came to be mutually informed through a complex range of reproductive modes.

Organized by Jaya Remond (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) and Michael J. Waters (Columbia University), participants include Shira Brisman (University of Pennsylvania), Aaron Hyman (Johns Hopkins University), Elizabeth Merrill (London), Kathryn Blair Moore (University of Connecticut), Stephanie Porras (Tulane University), Cara Rachele (ETH Zürich), Femke Speelberg (Metropolitan Museum of Art), and Madeleine C. Viljoen (New York Public Library).

This conference will be held via Zoom. Please register in advance. All times listed are local New York time (Eastern Time Zone).

Thursday, 10 June

10AM: Introduction

Jaya Remond, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Michael J. Waters, Columbia University

10:20AM: Session 1

The Grotesque Law of Property
Shira Brisman, University of Pennsylvania
When printmakers of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries compiled designs as “grotesques,” they offered their booklets to other craftsmen, presenting their ideas as openly to be shared. Yet the records pertaining to workshops from this period reveal the extent to which the transmission of artistic ideas was governed by laws of property, where what was regulated was the passing on of prints and plates. Taking on the topic of copying by juxtaposing artistic gestures of sharing with legal protections against theft, this paper will also focus on the invented space of the grotesque as an otherworld where objects and materials are taken and given. It will argue that the syntactical structure of these images permits fantasies about a suspension in causality, allowing attributions of origin, order, and ownership to be held in check.
Taking/Faking/Making: Reassessing Ownership in Early Printmaking
Femke Speelberg, Metropolitan Museum of Art
In their canonical work The Renaissance Print, David Landau and Peter Parshall described the goldsmith-printmaker Israel von Meckenem as “the most voracious pirate” in printmaking. While they used this statement to introduce a discussion of Von Meckenem’s important role as a print entrepreneur, the artist has never quite been able to shake the stigma. His practice forms a fascinating jumping off point for a re-evaluation of notions about ownership in the early print market that go beyond the black and white concepts of “original” and “copy”. Through a select number of case studies, this paper explores how artists used copies to leverage their skillset and knowledge in the early print market.


11:45AM: Session 2

Improvising Ornament
Madeleine C. Viljoen, New York Public Library
Viewed as a site for the transmission of goldsmith design, early modern ornament prints are regularly viewed through the lens of the copy. Populated by individuals inspired by the prints of well-known etcher Jacques Callot, however, engraved ornaments of the early and mid-seventeenth-century complicate if not contradict this narrative. Characters from the tradition of the commedia dell’arte together with other lowbrow, anti-academic types, convey a sense of ornament as a medium that is instead consistent with improvisation. This paper explores what the insertion of such figures can tell us about the genre’s resistance to practices of rote learning or slavish imitation.
Michael Snijders and the Copious Copy
Aaron Hyman, Johns Hopkins University
In the first half of the seventeenth century, the little-studied printmaker Michael Snijders engraved an idiosyncratic series. Heads, limbs, flora, fauna, antique costume, and fantastical doodles fill these sheets, approximating the logic of an artist’s sketchbook. Carefully selected pictorial citations—often labeled with other artists’ names—offer a master-class in artistic emulation, assembling a visual repository, a set of graphic styles, and even visual references to literary figures and artistic treatises. But reproductive facture betrays the apparent status of the drawing book as a fiction. This paper is about the delights of copying—of staged intertextuality and clever pictorial puns and plays—and the place of this copiousness within art history. For Snijders is an artist one seldom considers, slotting easily into the supposedly uninteresting category of the flat-footed, slavish copyist. With his sketchbook series he evinced, however, how art and its history was as central to his thinking as the exigencies of a mass market. This paper thus mobilizes the copiousness in and of Snijders’ fragmented and intertwined pictorial fields as a theoretical tool with which to offer a revised notion of “the copy” and suture domains of art historical inquiry.


Friday, 11 June

10:00AM: Session 3

Original or copy? Re-considering Francesco di Giorgio’s Opusculum de’ architectura
Elizabeth Merrill, London
Francesco di Giorgio’s stature as Urbino court architect is poignantly captured in his autograph Opusculum de’architectura (British Museum). Dedicated to Duke Federico da Montefeltro around 1475, this exquisite manual of machine designs celebrates the energy and productivity of the Urbino court while also modelling Francesco’s excellence as a draftsman and his particular expertise as a construction coordinator and technician. Yet, the Opusculum was not entirely unique to Urbino, or even Francesco di Giorgio. The majority of models it features were reproduced in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in variation, in dozens of manuscript compilations. Within the scholarship, these prosaic reproductions are frequently placed within an extensive corpus of machine copy-drawings “after Francesco”. Still, among his contemporaries, Francesco di Giorgio was seldom given authorship for these canonical models; ostensibly, their popularity was such that they were appropriated among practitioners as generic prototypes.
Copying Perspectives and Finding the Section: Architectural Drawing Books in the Circle of Raphael
Cara Rachele, ETH Zürich
This paper analyzes a change in architectural drawing that grew out of a group of semi-anonymous Italian drawing books of the early 1510s–1530s, here posited as architectural design copybooks analogous to the commonplace books used by humanists to arrange citations. Even when the original object was easily accessible, aspiring architects based their images on authoritative earlier drawings that were exchanged from artist to artist. One result of this repetition was the development of the rationalized orthogonal section drawing from copies of geometrically-constructed perspective drawings. The binary opposition of the two techniques in period texts like Raphael and Castiglione’s “Letter to Leo X” belies the more varied representational strategies used in practice. Volumes like the little-known Codex Mellon (Morgan Library and Museum), among others, document the processes by which the perspective picture window, with its spatial recession, transformed into the flat screen of the paper page, onto which the orthogonal lines of section drawing were projected.


11:20AM: Session 4

Paper, Ivory, Feathers: Viral Materiality
Stephanie Porras, Tulane University
On either side of the Pacific, ivory carvers in Manila and feather workers in New Spain drew upon the same engraved models of St Jerome, imported from Antwerp. The resultant small-scale triptychs were then sent back across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans as precious exports, completing in reverse the journeys taken by their engraved models. In Manila, Chinese immigrant artists transformed printed crosshatching into three-dimensional relief. In doing so, artists unfamiliar with chiaroscuro performed an epistemic as well as a material translation, interpreting ways of thinking about light and shade, volume and form. In New Spain, local carvers and amantecas (featherworkers) used the same prints to produce small wooden triptychs backed with feathers. Substituting feathers for ivory, these artists used a material firmly conceptually linked with America, responding not only to the print but the Philippine-made ivories, activating shared and imagined notions of value. In Manila and Mexico then, a paper product was remade into an export good that participated in a globalized economy of devotional luxury goods. This paper argues that beyond simply providing iconographic source material, imported prints also crucially modelled the operations of a newly globalized art market. These various St. Jeromes—in paper, ivory, wood and feathers—reveal how artists and viewers imagined each other across oceans and continents. Copied, forwarded, redeployed and recontextualized across oceans and continents, I argue that the viral movement of early modern prints was propelled by this kind of material experimentation, acts of appropriation and creative assembly.
Arabesques between mechanical copying and calligraphic invention in early modern Europe
Kathryn Blair Moore, University of Connecticut
Arabesques within early modern European visual culture have long been regarded as derivative forms copied from Islamic art. This paper will instead consider copying in the context of printing as an essential aspect of the formation of the concept of arabesques, as patterns created for ongoing adaptation and variation across surfaces of any material. By shifting focus from the essential forms of arabesques to questions of materiality and facture, this paper will recontextualize European arabesques within the context of both illustrated books and single page prints that were explicitly made to be copied and adapted. More than just patterns for replication, arabesques were early on associated with the Arabic script and an art of calligraphy that tends towards arbitrary invention at the limits of sensical representation. The anonymity and potential adaptability of arabesques across the surface-space of objects further exemplified the novel autopoetic potential enabled by printing. From this perspective, arabesques constituted the antithesis of intellectual art creation as theorized in the period. Indeed, the life of arabesques forms, like other aspects of cultures of copying within and beyond printing, remained external to the theoretical discourse on art making.


12:45PM: Final Discussion

Image credit: Johann Neudörffer the Elder, Eine Gute Ordnung und kurtze unterucht, 1538–1541 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Felix M. Warburg, 1928, 28.106.28)