The Akkadian term ṣalmu: Some remarks on the concept of ‚image‘ in Mesopotamia in the second and first millennia B.C.

Stele of Assurnasirpal II ( Reign: 883-859 B. C.). In: Layard, A. H., Discoveries in the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon; with travels in Armenia, Kurdistan and the desert, London 1853, p. 350.

Stele of Assurnasirpal II ( Reign: 883-859 B. C.). In: Layard, A. H., Discoveries in the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon; with travels in Armenia, Kurdistan and the desert, London 1853, p. 350.

by Babette Schnitzlein

A number of Akkadian written sources mention the term ṣalmu. Akkadian is a Semitic language which is known to have been used from the middle of the third millennium B. C. until the first century of the first millennium A.D. Akkadian was written in a script called cuneiform. Taking a closer look at the texts, in which the term ṣalmu appears, it becomes evident that ṣalmu is not a term for a specific medium, for example a statue or painting. It was used for all kind of images like statues, reliefs, stelae, figurines out of clay, depictions on seals and metal bands. Weiterlesen

Un viaje desde la memoria interminable

By Linda Báez-Rubí

In this post, Linda Báez-Rubí explores the background to Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas and its relationship to psychology and astrology for Warburg, before presenting a possible reading of Panel 79.

Al momento de su fallecimiento, en octubre de 1929, el psico-historiador del arte y la cultura, Aby Warburg (1866-1929), se encontraba trabajando en un proyecto al que le había dedicado especial atención desde 1924: el Atlas de imágenes Mnemosine. La manera en que Warburg organizaba el rico material de imágenes sobre grandes tableros de fondo negro abría la posibilidad de relacionar diversos motivos figurativos entre ellas. El constante ejercicio experimental de cambiar, introducir y suprimir fotografías que mandaba hacer sobre la producción cultural humana, desde pintura, dibujo, escultura, cerámica, numismática hasta imágenes propagandísticas, lo llevó a realizar distintas series que se albergan actualmente en el Archivo del Instituto Warburg en Londres.

De este modo, Warburg, registraba visualmente la historia de la vida de las imágenes en su recorrido tanto geográfico-temporal como en sus vehículos de transporte. La intención del erudito hamburgués de ilustrar dicho proceso, no se reducía meramente a la presentación de material icónico, sino que también tenía pensado acompañarlo con reflexiones teóricas que ofrecieran una explicación sobre la necesidad humana de crear y expresarse mediante las imágenes heredadas por la memoria. Sin embargo, varios de estos textos no se escribieron o quedaron esbozados en fragmentos.

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The first English Art History PhD

Image from the autobiography of George N. Kates, 1989, Oxford University Press.

Oxford students, 1930 – the year of the first PhD in Art History awarded in England.

It is well known that, for a long time, Art History didn’t have it easy in Britain. After all, this is the country where the first Secretary of State for Culture (a position that was established only in 1992) joked that he was now head of the “ministry of fun.” The first chair in Art History was thus only established in 1955 at the university of Oxford. Only since then has it been possible to receive a proper university education in the subject – or so the story goes. When Francis Haskell gave a “Thank offering to Britain“ lecture on 22 November 1988, he apparently felt uneasy. His homeland, Haskell said, had after all absolutely no merits in the proliferation of art historical research. „Any English art historian of my generation is bound to feel even more embarrassed than flattered to be asked to give the ‚Thank you to Britain‘ lecture.“ His lecture on “The Growth of British Art History and its Debts to Europe” (Proceedings of the British Academy LXXIV (1988)) thus emphasised first and foremost the latter part: That art history as an academic discipline was a complete import from Europe, transplanted to the British Isles. That the said first chair at Oxford was held by Edgar Wind, a German émigré, supports this argument. Haskell consequently dedicated his lecture not to England, but to the Warburg Institute, as the driving force, or so he argued, behind the establishment of Art History in Britain. Weiterlesen

Gold as Memory Track

The Triumph of Lust (detail), from a seven-piece set of the Seven Deadly Sins, designed by Pieter Coocke van Aelst, ca. 1532-33, woven in Brussels, ca. 1542-44,  wool, silk, gilt-metal-wrapped thread, Patrimonio Nacional, Palacio Real de Madrid, 8 warps per cm

The Triumph of Lust (detail), from a seven-piece set of the Seven Deadly Sins, designed by Pieter Coecke van Aelst, ca. 1532-33, woven in Brussels, ca. 1542-44, wool, silk, gilt-metal-wrapped thread, Patrimonio Nacional, Palacio Real de Madrid, 8 warps per cm

By Isabella Woldt

Gold is one of the most valuable natural materials taken from the earth. From early childhood we learn to consider and recognize it as precious, a sign of economic wealth. But gold is more than just a material whose value is set to economic markets. Gold is a carrier of cultural values; even more, it is a particularly important carrier of cultural knowledge. Both aspects, its material and cultural value, are reasons for the use of gold in the production of art objects, for instance statues, decorative elements in architecture, in paintings, and not least in textile art, especially in the manufacturing of tapestries. Weiterlesen

Exhibiting as research(?)

Poster for the 'First Emperor' exhibition, British Museum (2007-8)

Poster for the ‚First Emperor‘ exhibition, British Museum (2007-8)

What seems like way back in 2007-8, the final year of my undergraduate studies, an exhibition opened that, for me and perhaps others, changed the way I thought about what museums might be for. At the time, the First Emperor exhibition in the wonderful round Reading Room space then being used at the British Museum for its special exhibitions felt like an intellectual journey in a way that I had not really experienced in exhibitions before. I came away having seen some amazing objects but also feeling like I knew more about something. I had been told a story, but it was a story with holes and ambiguities and debates still unresolved Weiterlesen

Coining metaphors, continuing a conversation

Medal of emperor John VIII Palaiologos by Pisanello (c. 1438-42), from the British Museum, Highlights.

Medal of emperor John VIII Palaiologos by Pisanello (c. 1438-42), from the British Museum, Highlights.

The opportunity to share perspectives and ideas with colleagues pursuing very different research topics is one of the privileges of working in the ‚Bilderfahrzeuge‘ group, and this post continues one such conversation, begun in an earlier contribution by Hans-Christian. In it he talks about the idea of using metaphors derived from the language of minting coins in describing art history. It got me thinking about a category of image with which I have long been familiar: things which were produced as works of art/illustration and made in some way to look like coins. These objects were often also mass-produced and widely circulated, though in very different ways to coins, and had no fixed economic value. Why, then, have they been so popular and what authority do they gain from looking like coins? Weiterlesen

Coining Metaphors

The language of art history is a fascinating field of study. What metaphors and stylistic devices were used by art historians in order to describe such art historical phenomena as image-circulation, artistic transmission, or influence? One set of metaphors that remains to be researched is metaphors stemming from the field of numismatics and coinage. Aby Warburg used significant metaphors stemming from the realm of coinage and minting in order to describe processes of influence and ‘cultural imprints’. In the introduction to Mnemosyne, for example, he wrote of the “Prägewerk, das die Ausdruckswerte heidnischer Ergriffenheit münzt” (the mint, which coins the expressive values of pagan emotion). The ‘pathos-formula’ underlying Western image production is in Warburg’s language thus, quite literally, coined.

This photograph from the Warburg Institute Photographic Collection, shows a modern medallion. The design on it appears to depict mint workers strikig coinage and was possibly inspired by Roman coins with images of minting activity struck onto them.

This photograph from the Warburg Institute Photographic Collection, shows a modern medallion. The design on it appears to depict mint workers strikig coinage and was possibly inspired by Roman coins with images of minting activity struck onto them.

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Renaissance Rhetoric as a Source of Questions about Art

Peter Mack (Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick)

Basel UniversityThis is a very lightly edited text of a lecture given by Prof. Peter Mack to the Seminar for Art History in Basel on 10 December 2014 at the invitation of Prof. Dr Andreas Beyer. It includes material used in lectures in Senate House, University of London, at Hangzhou and at the Warburg Institute. It represents an effort to imagine a future Iconology informed by ideas taken from rhetoric, as a contribution to the Bilderfahrzeuge Project, and can be understood as relating to work by Michael Baxandall, Marc Fumaroli, Heinrich Plett and Caroline van Eck. In writing the lecture Peter Mack acknowleges valuable comments from Paul Hills, Paul Smith and Svetlana Alpers.

Due to the length of the text, the bulk of it has been placed behind a break for ease of reading on this blog. Simply click to keep reading after the first paragraph!

Renaissance rhetoric as a sources of questions about art

I offer you this paper in an interdisciplinary spirit, hoping that my responses to studying my own field of renaissance rhetoric may suggest some ideas which are worth pursuing in relation to the visual arts. I shall begin the paper with some general reflections about rhetoric, then I shall briefly discuss some particular teachings of classical and renaissance rhetoric which may be helpful to people thinking about paintings. I shall spend roughly the second half of the lecture talking about five well-known paintings in the light of some of these ideas. I hope that you will think of this paper as an invitation to read some rhetoric texts and to consider their possible use for your own work.