2016-2017 Events Calendar

Friday, April 27, 2018, Pyle Center at 6:45 p.m.: "Art, Nature, Fabrication." Public Lecture by Prof. Claudia Swan (Dept. of Art History, Northwestern University), Borghesi-Mellon  Workshop on Science, Nature, and Wonder in the Middle Ages. Co-Sponsored by the Department of Art History, the Center for Visual Cultures and the Department of History. Workshop Discussion for faculty and students on "Image, Imagination, Cognition," 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m., Department of Art History, The Hagen Room, Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, Room 150. RSVP for reading to frieze@wisc.edu.

The often complex, always productive, and sometimes vexed relationship between art and nature is an august topos of early modern European culture - and of artistic production in particular. The relationship between art and nature played out across a variety of arenas in the early modern era. One arena in which the principles and products of art and nature were cultivated is the collection - and in particular, the sorts of collections referred to as Wunderkammern, chambers of wonder. The complex artifacts that epitomize Wunderkammer collections were prized for seeming the products of art and nature alike. This paper focuses on one such artifact, the shell vessel or Nautiluspokal, produced in large numbers around 1600. Fabricated objects that embody the play of art and nature, shell vessels emblematize the relationship between collecting and trade, and the commercialization and collecting of rare, foreign, curious, exotic items - nacre and lucre.

Monday, April 30, 2018: "An Ordinary Ship and Its Stories of Early Globalism: Scale, Mass Production, Art, and Innovation in the Global Middle Ages." Public Lecture by Prof. Geraldine Heng (Dept. of English, University of Texas - Austin), Department of Art History, Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140, 5:00 p.m. Borghesi Mellon Workshop on Science, Nature, and Wonder in the Middle Ages. The abstract can be found below. Workshop for faculty and students on "Teaching on Race in the Middle Ages," 2:30-3:30 p.m., Department of Art History, Hagen Room (Room 150), Conrad A. Elvehjem Building. RSVP for reading to frieze@wisc.edu

What do we gain, in studying an interconnected early world?  For one, our understanding of traditional grands récits can be revised: What does it mean to say that the Industrial Revolution began in the West, when we learn from the Sinologist Robert Hartwell’s data that the amount of coal burnt in 11th century Song China for its iron and steel industries was already 70% of the coal burnt for these industries in 18th century industrial England?  Enlarging the scale of historical data collection by interleaving data from outside the West discloses a number of 'industrial' and 'scientific' revolutions, in different vectors of the world, moving at different rates of speed across macro-historical time.


An ordinary ship and its cargo can tell the story of far-flung global markets, human voyaging, and early industrialization in China that supplied exports to the world.  Sometime after 825 CE an Arab dhow set sail from the port of Guanzhou in coastal south China, having unloaded its goods from the Near East, and reloaded with some estimated 70,000 ceramics and other items, “ this hand-sewn ship made of planks fastened with coconut fiber (without any nails) seems to have decided to offload some cargo first in maritime Southeast Asia, perhaps intending to pick up a secondary cargo of spices, resins, and aromatics for which the Indonesian islands were famed.  The dhow sank near the island of Belitung, at a reef called Batu Hitam ("Black Rock").

Fifty-five thousand ceramic wares, along with gold and silver ornaments, ingots, mirrors, ewers, vases, jars, cups, incense burners, boxes, flasks, bottles, graters, and the like, and 2 objects that may have been children’s toys, and a re-soldered gold bracelet sized for a woman’s wrist were excavated intact in 1998, and are housed at the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore.  This 9th century dhow is the earliest ship of its kind recovered, though hand-sewn ships that plied the Indian Ocean are described in travel accounts from as early as the 1st century CE.  The dhow is a remarkable example of the global ships carrying people, goods, ideas, religion, and culture, which knit the world into relationship along transoceanic routes.  Its vast trove of ceramics is the earliest physical evidence attesting the industrial production of ceramics in China for export to foreign markets as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Designs painted on the great majority of the ceramic wares were favored in the export market, not in China.  


Part of the trove includes prototypes of blue-and-white ceramics for which China would become famous 200 years later: ceramic experiments that feature Persian designs attesting global interrelationships in art and the exchange of ideas.  The crews of ships such as this one were multiracial, multi-religious, and assembled from everywhere: The cargo, knowledge, and stories these diverse, anonymous voyagers helped to transfer across the world transform our understanding of scale, time, art, and globalism.