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Panel I: Visual Perception

What is historical about pictorial perception? Reconsidering early modern « realism » through cross cultural psychology

Antoine Gallay, University of Paris 

Does vision have a history? Since Wölfflin asserted that the history of vision might be the main purpose of the history of art, scholars have generally tended to agree that such investigation is possible. The rise of cultural studies sustained by a more or less radical constructivism led to a consensus that vision was indeed culturally determined, or rather, that there was a part of vision – sometimes called visuality – which should be considered as culturally determined.  It has thus been argued that the « realism » of a picture – that is the impression of the perceptive similarity between a representation and its object – is culturally constructed.  Such argument has been especially used against the hitherto prevalent conception that early modern painting was universally – or naturally – realistic. While realism once designated a natural ressemblance between a representation and its object, it now refers to a conventional system of signs in which the relation between the sign and the signified is so deeply rooted that it seems to be natural.  However, vision preexists on social interaction. If there is a physiologically determined part of vision (thus irrelated to culture), realism must also beconsidered as partly naturally determined. Hence I will attempt to precise the boundary between the natural and cultural aspects of vision by using specific results provided by cross-cultural psychology of perception. Such an approach will allow to consider more subtle features of pictorial perception and representation and thus to refine the possible histories of vision.


The Metric Basis of Form: Reconceiving 19th century formalist theories through perception analysis

Eugene Han, Yale University

Towards the end of the 19th century, a renewed interest in the process of perception began to emerge in formal theory in art and architecture. With the application of a nascent psychology in the plastic arts, such discourses exploited notions of perception to argue for the inherent complexity and manifold nature of form. Emerging from this milieu, theorist Konrad Fiedler attempted to synthesize concepts in linguistics and perception through a ‘visual language’, a unified structure which allowed for the ordering of the visible world against ideas previously established in language studies. His theories serve as historical precedent for the current research, in which parallels are made between formal theory, linguistics, and contemporary studies of perception.

The following research involves three intimately connected modes of study: interpretation of theories focusing on the written works of theorists including Konrad Fiedler and those influential to his work, original eye tracking studies developed in response to notions of rhythm in architecture, and the development of computational graphical analyses demonstrating key concepts of form. Findings from this research will show that through studies in eye tracking and other related measurements of perception, cycles of alternating movements are established by the eye which provide for an analogical means to conceive of linguistic rhythm and meter within form in the plastic arts. It is argued through this proposal, that with the integration of formal theory and graphical analysis of eye movements, historical notions such as ‘pure visibility’ may be demonstrated as much as conceptualized.


To pose as a Woman – to pose  as a Man

Mario Thalwitzer, University of Vienna

To pose is to show, to display oneself for others to see - to pose is to perform. The performer wants to be perceived and to be recognized in a specific way, in a specific role. It’s not individuality that becomes apparent, not the likeness of a portrait. The pose wants to convey meaning. Emotions and Conventions are communicated. References must be readable and they become readable through iconographic iteration. This is not dependent on the context of the performance; it regards theatre as well as paintings, cinema or photography.  The basic forms of poses are processed since the antiquity as a mnemonic embossment, like Warburg says the Einverseelung. This process is essential for the legibility of representations of moving living subjects. The Vorprägung, this bodily imprint allows for an immediate response and does not only affect us cognitively but also emotionally. Aby Warburg’s vocabulary is finding an echo in the development and concepts of the cognitive science. A bodily commemoration is an essential foundation to make sense of the world and for meaningful conversation. These processes are also relevant for the construction of femininity and masculinity. The performer poses as a woman or as a man. The pose guarantees unambiguousness. This takes part in the social construction of gender identity. Debating the notion of the pose allows for a revisiting of the doing gender concept of West/Zimmerman and the performativity concept of Judith Butler.

To test these theses we conducted an empirical study in the laboratory for cognitive studies in art history. In cooperation with artist Carolin Kallert (Frankfurt a. M.) and a graphic designer we reduced paintings in context to filter the essential elements of depicted poses. Those were shown to a number of subjects together with a questionnaire testing for experienced emotions, gender related responses and basic psychological measures. The Eye Movements were tracked to seek out differences in gaze patterns between experiment conditions and groups of subjects. Gender differences were a main target in the analysis to reveal constructions of femininity and masculinity. The talk will present the theoretical apparatus, the methodology, the study design and the findings. It will take an interdisciplinary approach and connect Art History, Psychology, Cognitive Science and Gender Studies to tackle the cultural phenomenon of the pose.


Panel II: Cognition and Museum

The museum as such is a huge laboratory for aesthetic experience and judgement. A museum is an artificial room designed to guarantee a most pleasing sensation while wandering through a chosen selection of cultural objects. Social, emotional and cognitive aspects are intertwined in this experience. In the museum, even in the natural history museums, we encounter our cultural past (the exhibited objects), present (the presentation) and often enough our predicted future. How does our social status influence this encounter? How does the spatial situation shape our experience? How is the art experience different from other art related spaces or from a laboratory where art may be used? How are greater cultural narratives developed and can they be understood by the visitors? Can we learn something about the function of art while observing the behavior of the beholder?


Visitors’ interpretative frameworks at art exibition

Željka Miklošević, University of Zagreb

This focus of the talk is a visitor study conducted at the art exhibition Images of the Great War which was on show at the Croatian History Museum in Zagreb in 2015. The goal of the study was to explore socio-cultural frameworks visitors drew on while experiencing art in a physical space of the museum. The study was based on interviews with local visitors aged 19 to 30 which were transcribed and analysed using the qualitative methodology of discourse analysis. The findings were consistent with the museological literature that deals with knowledge construction, mostly found in the works of authors whose approach to researching museums has been informed by hermeneutics and semiotics. The visitors are understood as social actors shaped by both the museum environment constructed according to the basic museum functions of collecting, research and communication, and the “outside” socio-cultural context in which museums operate and which they share with their local visitors. The two contexts intertwined in the experiences and comprehension process of the interviewed visitors. The socio-cultural discourses defined in the analysis are the following: education (information format, aesthetic judgement, authoritativeness) media landscape (mediated imagery, formats, new media use), and previous and present museum experience (comparison with other museums, authority of the institution).


Applying user experience research methods to study art historians’ interpretation of digital narratives in art museums.

María Isabel Hidalgo Urbaneja, University of Glasgow

User experience research methods are widely employed in web and software development. The same methods are increasingly being included in the workflow of museums websites and apps design, and recently, in digital art history projects. They provide a better understanding of users' reactions and expectations, as well as reveal the strengths and weaknesses of information structuring and interface usability. As part of my doctoral research, my aim is to provide a definition of digital narratives that will help to understand the implications, added value and future development of digital narratives in online exhibitions and publications for both art museums and the art community. I am building this definition combining a narrative analysis of several prominent online exhibitions and publications from the UK, US, and Spain, with the data collected from museum professionals and art historians.

In this context, the application of UX research methods can facilitate a qualitative understanding of art historians’ attitudes, expectations, and reasoning while interpreting art historical narratives in online exhibitions and publications. In this talk, I will present the first results of my research. Specifically, art historians' interpretations of digital narratives captured through interviews and thinking aloud protocol testing with individuals from several specialisation fields, at different career stages, and both familiarised, or not, with technologies.


To speak or to stay silent. Visitor discourses in thinking-aloud and thinking-afterwards 

Luise Reitstätter, University of Applied Arts Vienna

According to Michel Foucault, discourse means what can be said as well as what can not be said: Everything that motivates to speak, what becomes verbalised but also what is said only between the lines or even kept secret. In this lecture, the purpose is to talk about visitor discourses in order to draw attention to visitors being increasingly approached as part of a rising visitor orientation, whereas in everyday museum practice they are still rarely listened to. Typical visitor surveys collect data on sex, age, residence, education level, number and motives of the museum visit as well as other hard facts of cultural consumption. But what do visitors think during their museum tour and what are their personal conclusions after the visit? In standardised surveys this kind of information often is left out or only schematically covered. In contrast to this, the lecture draws on the characteristics of qualitative visitor studies with the methods of thinking aloud during the exhibition tour and the qualitative interview after the visit sounding out visitors’ impressions regarding the exhibition. Apart from the methodological comparison, the lecture offers results from comprehensive field research in contemporary art exhibitions and interlocks empirical visitor discourses with theoretical museum discourses. As will be shown, the opposite poles of speaking and staying silent are, by no means, impartial approaches to art. Instead, they reveal empirically highly relevant reception models like, for instance, the historical ideal of the connoisseur in deep quiet and grace or the concept of the postmodern talkative society.


Measuring Art Perception in the Museum

Hanna Brinkmann, University of Vienna & Mario Thalwitzer, University of Vienna

It is claimed that findings of laboratory studies cannot be transferred to real life situations such as beholding paintings in a museum because of differences in the environment, modalities of the presentation and the aura of the original art work. Hence, a data comparison of an in situ study with laboratory data is a major gap in research of art perception. 

The development of a new calibration-free eye tracking device makes this lab-museum comparison possible for the first time. We conducted a study at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna and in the controlled setting (light, noise, presence of others) of the Laboratory for Cognitive Research in Art History which is situated at the department of art history, Vienna. In both groups participants were asked to fill out the same questionnaire after viewing specific paintings. In the museum, visitors became aware of being tested only after they had been recorded since we operated the system via an android app and remained in the background disguised as museum staff. Overall we recorded almost 800 participants from 58 different countries. In this talk the study design, challenges in the field and first results will be presented.


Exploring the Role of Tactility in Early Modern Collecting...in a Twenty-first Century Museum

Joaneath Spicer, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore USA

In 2005, while laying out (in the Walters) a three-gallery 17th-century Chamber of Art and Wonders notionally situated in the Spanish Netherlands and loosely based on Habsburg models including Schloss Ambras, I picked up a lot of objects. It was a revelation, and thus began my interest in the role of tactility in the appreciation and selection of objects as a criterion of collecting beginning around 1500. While a variety of cultural, artistic, and scientific narratives could be explored in the installation itself and in the dedicated website (http://art.thewalters.org/browse/location/chamber-of-wonders/ begun in 2014), tactility, however, requires a more direct empirical component that is generally difficult for an art historian to replicate.

In 2012 I joined forces with a Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist specialized in touch  to devise experiments embedded in a temporary exhibition Touch and the Enjoyment of Sculpture: Exploring the Appeal of Renaissance Statuettes in which visitors were invited to assess a variety of models. This was successful in that visitors ranked the objects in the order that my hypothesis, based on assumptions about 16th-c. collectors, had predicted, but in my view our results raised more questions than they answered. My collaborator died before we could publish these findings, which I still hope to do. Nevertheless, the biggest impact of the experiment was the expansion of my perspective, not as a neuroscientist-manqué, but as an art historian seeking to understand and share with others the role of a type of personal sensate experience at another moment in history.


Panel III: Analyzing Symmetry


Medieval Art and the Upper Edge

Michael Brennan, Trinity College Dublin

Sixth- and seventh-century Germanic metalworkers adopted the classical fashion for mirror-symmetry when creating zoomorphic ornament on buckles and brooches.  Empirical evidence suggests that in their pursuit of symmetry they gave special attention to the upper halves and upper edges of decoration.

The artists soon found that the internal structure of alternating interlace, (that is, ribbon-work where the ribbons go over-under-over-under… alternately), and the internal structure of mirror-symmetry are opposed to each other. They reacted by breaking the alternation ‘rule’ at the extremes of a motif so as to make it appear to be laterally symmetric.

The artist of the late-7th century Lindisfarne Gospels took the dialectic between interlace and symmetry to its limit. With a deep understanding of the structure of zoomorphic interlace, and frequently exploiting the upper edge of the motif, he created visual puzzles in which symmetry moved and changed as the eye scanned downwards.

In 1908, Huey argued that in the act of reading, human vision favours the upper halves of letters. Recent research supports Huey, and supports the view that in the presence of distracting targets the upper visual field enjoys an advantage in the viewer’s attention. This seems relevant to early medieval art.

The hypothesis that there was an ‘upper-edge’ aesthetic in early medieval art will be supported by examples from the archaeological corpus, and by analysis of the Lindisfarne Gospels in particular.


Mary Symmetrical and Mary Nonsymmetrical

Wolter Seuntjens, Kurparkklinik Dr. Lauterbach, Bad Liebenstein

In the Christian tradition, praying with hands held together can be done in three ways: symmetrically, quasi-symmetrically, and asymmetrically.

Contrary to expectation, the praying postures in which the Virgin Mary (TVM) and Mary Magdalene (MM) are depicted in Christian art are not random. TVM prays most often symmetrically whereas MM prays predominantly nonsymmetrically (first rule). Moreover, both Marys pray mainly symmetrically in depictions of pre- and post-Passion scenes whereas they pray mostly nonsymmetrically in Passion scenes (second rule). The exception to the second rule is the theme of The Penitent MM, in which MM is depicted mostly praying nonsymmetrically (third rule).

As a tentative explanation of these differences it is proposed that: (1) TVM is for the most part depicted symmetrically because she is the epitome of serene perfection whereas the more often nonsymmetrically depicted MM is the embodiment of emotional perfectability. (2) In Passion scenes both Marys are shown mainly in nonsymmetrical praying postures because of the extreme emotionality whereas in pre- and post-Passion scenes they both display the more beatific symmetrical praying postures. (3) The Penitent MM is generally depicted in the emotional nonsymmetrical praying posture because in that particular part of the post-Passion period MM’s sainthood was still in the balance.


Panel IV: Matter and Fact: Problems and Prospects of Technical Art History

Technical Art History (TAH) is a branch of art history that positions itself as distinct from the tradition of Kunstgeschichte als Geistesgeschichte. Coined about 20 years ago as 'the study of the making of art', the term has gained ground over the last few years.

Most art historians, however, still associate TAH exclusively with the scientific examination of art objects (mostly for matters of attribution, authenticity and dating), which in itself is not a form of art history. Yet, TAH is more than mere technical analysis. The study of art as techne has in a broader sense called for reconsiderations of the practice of art history, for instance by reflecting upon the implications of the physical and material nature of art objects.

This panel aims to investigate the empirical nature of TAH beyond the most obvious one of technical examination. We will explore methodological implications of the empirical study of materials of art objects in an historical framework.

The first lecture will discuss implications for the writing of art history when undertaken as branch of the history of materials and technique. The second discusses 'historical reconstruction' for the study of art objects, their material, manufacture and degradation, while the third reflects on the relation between the survival and the material of art objects.


Tools and Transformations. Technical Explanations for Stylistic Change 

Arjan de Koomen, University of Amsterdam

If art historians consider the shaping forces behind transformations of art over time, they most likely search for intellectual or social explanations. The idea that the making of art has a history of its own that also might provide answers, is generally ignored, perhaps because matter-of-fact explanations do not suit the notion of art historical scholarship. As a consequence there lies a largely unexplored field open to the new branch of TAH: the history of interactions between materials and techniques and the impact on the history of art.

This lecture focuses on one element from the technical repertoire that is particularly neglected: the tool. No art historical survey tells us -for example- when the chisel or brush were introduced and how they developed. How-to books from the past might describe their manufacture and use, conservators and conservation scientists mention their traces, but their contribution to the history of art remains unnoticed.

Examples of major changes from different periods demonstrate how new and improved tools led to artistic innovations that, while familiar to us, are usually construed differently. This raises the question how the technical interpretation relates to the ideological and contextual exegesis. It will be argued that an empirically-based art historiography may contribute to an understanding of the course art that normally escapes studies of art as cultural history.


Reflecting on Reconstructions. Methodological Issues in Reproducing Historical Artistic Production Processes.

Maartje Witlox, University of Amsterdam

Within the field of technical art history, a research method of growing popularity and importance is the reconstruction of historical recipes. Reconstructions are employed to gain a deeper understanding of the material manifestation of artworks (manufacture, original appearance and degradation), as a tool to establish the value and relevance of historical recipe sources and as an instrument to inform the museum public of past practices and appearances that have fallen victim to the tooth of time.

It is tempting to view reconstructions simply as a means to ‘step in the shoes of Rembrandt’. But the matter is more complicated. How to connect written texts to art objects? How to deal with tacit knowledge, details that have not been written down because they were assumed to be known facts, in the reconstruction process? Can we be ‘historically accurate’? More generally, does the distance between a 21st century researcher and a seventeenth century artist still allow for meaningful conclusions?

This lecture identifies reconstruction typologies, describes the role of reconstructions in learning about past artistic practices, and reflects on possibilities and limitations in their application. Finally, thoughts are shared on ways in which reconstructions may complement and connect to other art historical and art technological methods of research.


Art, Matter and Survival; Taphonomic Thoughts on the Sieve of Time

Jeroen Stumpel, Utrecht University

In a curious 17th century print, a figure of Time is gnawing at the mutilated remains of the Belvedere torso. This literal depiction of the tooth of time in action makes one wonder about Time's eating habits. Does he have particular tastes and preferred diets? A great of deal art has been lost during the ages, but how in fact are the chances of artistic survival distributed?

Questions of this nature are explored systematically in the field of taphonomy, a branch of paleo-biology that analyses the conditions under which organisms decay and may fossilize, in order to better understand the biases and lacunae of the fossil record.

Such an analytical perspective on material survival may also be helpful for establishing the empirical possibilities and limits of art history, and for understanding biases in the surviving body of art works. In the case of art, not just material aspects, but certainly also cultural conditions are of essential importance. Although there have been quite a number of studies on iconoclasm and the destruction of art, the various conditions for its counterpart, artistic survival, have much less been the subject of integrated study. Forms of material mimesis for instance, are a recurring feature in diverse processes of artistic survival. In this lecture the interplay between material and cultural conditions in the survival of art will be discussed, as in a kind of cultural taphonomy.


Panel V: Beyond Theory – Digital Art History, now!

Digital technologies have become an important, nearly essential tool for art historians. While theoretical debates still focus on long-term objectives of digital art history, there is already a large number of tangible results from projects combining art historical questions with digital practice.

This panel will reflect critically on the results of practical experience with digital tools and is geared towards art historians, who have integrated digital tools into their scientific routine.


The Controversy over Rembrandt’s Self-portrait in a Gorget: Technical Art History versus Digital Art History

Benjamin Binstock, The Cooper Union, New York & David Poeppel, New York University

Until 1998, Rembrandt’s Self-portrait in a Gorget in The Hague was universally recognized as a masterpiece. Following the technology-based discovery of an under-drawing in that year, the painting was demoted to an unknown student’s copy and a version in Nuremberg, previously seen as a student’s free copy, was promoted to Rembrandt’s original. The 1998 reversal, which included the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) reversing its earlier position, marks the advent of technical art history as a new paradigm in Rembrandt studies. Either scholars before that year or those coming after were mistaken.

We propose that the reversal was in error and manifests a crisis in method. Although technical art history can provide remarkable new information, in keeping with its present protocols, scholars are not addressing paintings by Rembrandt’s students, which is a precondition for recognizing Rembrandt’s paintings. As an additional approach based on new technologies, poised to enrich the art historical understanding we seek, we put forward digital art history. This approach allows for systematic visual comparisons among numerous paintings and therefore enables a shift to grouping together and distinguishing between paintings by Rembrandt and his individual students, which in turn allows us to follow their painting-by-painting development and interaction.

Rembrandt’s preparatory study in the British Museum for his painting in The Hague corresponds directly to his under-drawing. His painting’s pronounced chiaroscuro, palpable plasticity, and meticulous details parallel his other early paintings. By contrast, the blurry, patchy, flat qualities and imbalanced pose in the Nuremberg version echo paintings by Rembrandt’s student Isaack Jouderville, including free copies after Rembrandt’s self-portraits, both recognized and still unrecognized.

This case bears directly on science and art. The data collected by technical examination have to be interpreted subjectively and are often irrelevant as evidence. Instead of importing the technologies of the natural sciences, art history can forge its own scientific methodology, based on systematic methods and testable hypotheses using relevant evidence. The relevant evidence in this case primarily involves visual differences evident to the naked eye between paintings by Rembrandt and his individual students, which can be subject to systematic technical analysis of new technologies through digital art history.


Going Digital. Datasets, visualisations, and interpretations

Floor Koeleman, JDA, Eindhoven

Digital Art History is still very much in the making, and ongoing research projects are therefore often of an exploratory nature. During my studies I began to experiment with digital technologies applied to a wide range of art historical topics. In this talk I will elaborate on my experience with Digital Art History, especially regarding my recently completed research master’s thesis ‘Understanding the Post-Pompeian Era. Wall Painting in the Roman Empire (AD 79-395)’. The study of post-Pompeian Roman wall painting (Poporowapa) comes with numerous obstacles. Nowadays, however, data science offers the exciting opportunity to shed new light on this challenging research topic. With this in mind I created the Poporowapa dataset (http://poporowapa.midasweb.nl) that converts the art historical phenomenon to a collection of data. Subsequently, digital tools could be used to visualise and analyse this data. This makes it

possible to study trends in Roman painting based on time (AD 79-395) and place (the former Roman Empire). The distribution of certain visual features and their origin can be traced. Moreover, this allows us to investigate whether a center-periphery model is applicable to post-Pompeian painting. Ultimately the Poporowapa web app itself serves as a tool to illustrate the potential of digital methods for art historical research.


Mapping Senufo. From idea to implementation

Susan E. Gagliardi, Emory University Atlanta

When applied to the arts, the Senufo label facilitates classification of objects for sale or study when little or no documentation exists to identify specific artists, patrons, or audiences. Early twentieth- century connoisseurs and scholars who first looked at objects from the African continent as art sought to delineate discrete styles. For admirers of African art, applying cultural or ethnic group labels offered a ready way to categorize art consistent with views of the continent at the time. The approach is grounded in an assumption that art style coincides with language, religion, and social organization. Yet scholars have for decades recognized that art style, language, religion, and social organization do not overlap so neatly. Nevertheless, the classifications and assumptions undergirding them endure in museums, exhibitions, and publications. _Mapping Senufo_ is a collaborative digital project that brings together scholars at Emory University and the Cleveland Museum of Art. It will yield an open-access, born-digital, book-length publication that shifts bases for analysis from all-encompassing cultural or ethnic labels to historical data linked to identifiable people, places, and dates. It aims to: (1) visualize time- and place-based information about specific arts andabout knowledge of the arts; (2) reveal new possibilities for analyzing histories of art and the production of knowledge; and (3) generate fresh questions for study of arts that move beyond cultural or ethnic group classifications. This presentation will outline the project's inception and ongoing development. It will also demonstrate the importance of collaboration and assess preliminary findings.


Rebuilding the Past through the Future. The Book of Fortress

Ricardo M. Dias, University of Porto

New technologies have become an essential part in order to study our history. With the aid of 3D Modeling and field capturing techniques such has laser scanning and photogrammetry we are now possible to visualize our heritage without destructive and permanent methods. In this study we want to show how such methods impacted our study of the Book of Fortress “livro das fortalezas” an iconic book from the XVI Century that shows the state of many places from the coast of Portugal and Spain. Since the late XX century this document was forgotten since it was difficult to decipher its blueprints and landscape drawings but due to our work, combining History of Portuguese Art and new digital technologies it was possible to reconstruct many of the structures (in majority castles and churches) in 3D format and virtual reality.

The work that started has a Masters thesis is now on its way to a phd project, but has been progressing since many of the cities described in the book have shown interested in the digital reconstruction of their history through virtual immersive reality.

In result we want to show not only how it impacted the study of this document but also how it can improve our understanding of the past through different methods of visualization. To achieve this, we will focus on the methods used, the research plan involved and finally its output to digital platforms.



Art & Science

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