Use of Models in Gothic Art (Geneva, 4-5 Nov 2016)

Villard_de_Honnecourt_-_Sketchbook_-_29[1]Call for Papers

University of Geneva, November 4 – 05, 2016
Deadline: Dec 15, 2015

The University of Geneva’s Art History Unit and the University of
Strasbourg’s Institute of Art History are organizing an international

Supposed Models, Identified Models: Their Uses in Gothic Art

The topic of models, whose use is inherent to the artistic creative
process, has been central to art historians’ concerns for a long time.
In the Middle Ages, the use of various models was frequent. But those
remain rather difficult to identify when dealing with specific pieces
of work, which can be very distant, both chronologically and
geographically. Moreover, interpreting prototypes makes it all the more
difficult to analyse this phenomenon and appreciate its true
importance. Indeed, medieval artists typically proceeded by selecting a
number of patterns, which they then assembled into different
compositions. The few medieval model books that we have at our disposal
today describe this process: there is little to no composition per se,
but rather a selection of depictions. This shows a will by the artist,
whether it be a sculptor, a goldsmith, a painter or an architect, to
use creativity to go beyond the model itself, through the manipulation
and combination of a variety of borrowed elements. We know that the
diversity of the models used is key to the formation of Gothic art.
Determining their origin and circulation for a specific piece of work,
however, is no easy task.

Following the 1995 publishing of Robert W. Scheller’s seminal work
Exemplum. Model-book Drawings and the Practice of Artistic Transmission
in the Middle Ages, the use of bi- or tridimensional models, as an
intermediate between two pieces of work sharing one or more
similarities, has been systematically put forward to explain formal
transmission. However, given the rarity of the documents and the
uncertainty of their initial purpose, many questions and discrepancies
in opinions remain on both their importance and their actual use.

The aim of this conference is therefore to focus on those topics, more
specifically on how central they were to the creative process during
the Gothic era (12th to 15th century), in all artistic fields
(painting, sculpture, goldsmithery, architecture). By discussing those
different aspects in the various contributions, through the study of
their specificity (their nature, use and various channels of
distribution) the notion of models may thus be more precisely defined.

The nature itself of those models, a very debated issue, is a logical
starting point, even if the current state of the documents and the
preservation of the works make it difficult to guarantee a satisfactory
analysis. Which works of art are, at some point, deemed worthy of being
reproduced or mentioned? How is a model chosen? What criteria are taken
into account in order for it to be elevated to the status of reference?
In this case, the prototype becomes exceptional and should therefore be
examined. Model books and model drawings are another crucial topic
which must be widely discussed. What functions can be assigned to the
few fragments which historiographical tradition has considered as such?
Should formal books, designed to register a pattern or a composition,
be distinguished from notebooks used for memory purposes? The
collections of patterns we have today, which were probably designed to
be used as an intermediate and a means of transmission, come in a
bi-dimensional form, either on parchment, paper or wood. Fabric was
also considered recently as a possible material for the design of the
Canterbury and Sens stained glass. Besides, there is evidence of
tri-dimensional scale models (made of wax, wood, clay or plaster) being
used for various purposes, including sculpture. Again, the very nature
of these materials used for formal transmission from one work of art to
another requires an in-depth analysis.

We also need to question the manners in which craftsmen and artists
might have used these models. Are those partial or complete copies? To
what extent did the model need to be adapted (for iconography, material
or point of view), completed, adjusted (for scaling or framing) and
inevitably interpreted? What meaning should inversions be given? The
use of models, whether it be through sketches or reference work, could
have contributed to the visual and technical training of the artist as
well as guided the commissioner’s choice, following both aesthetic and
ideological criteria. Notes made for memory purposes and gathered along
various trips should not be neglected either.

Beyond the bi- and tri-dimensional models, whose role and significance
must be put into perspective, or at least carefully examined, the
transmission of shapes, patterns and compositions could have been
achieved via different means. The travelling of artists, supervisors or
commissioners, the mobility of small objects such as manuscripts,
statuettes, goldsmithery pieces, seals and the sending of diplomatic
gifts all represent other possible channels of distribution which could
explain the noted similarities between works geographically very
distant from one another.

Studying and questioning each of these aspects as thoroughly as
possible should provide us with some elements to answer a number of
questions which have been too briefly addressed so far. It should also
give a clearer and more precise idea of one of the means of
transmission of gothic art, through intense circulation networks, which
have contributed both to its emergence, its development and its spread.

The conference proceedings will be published.

Presentation proposals must be submitted by email with an abstract of
approx. 400 words, along with an abridged C.V. (2 pages maximum) by
December 15, 2015 to the following address: .
Prospective participants will be notified in mid-January 2016. A
provisional schedule will be available from March 2016. Presentations
will be limited to 20 minutes, followed by a 10 minute discussion.
Participants : Researchers, junior and senior
Languages : French, English

Organizing Committee:
Denise Borlée, University of Strasbourg
Laurence Terrier Aliferis, University of Geneva

Scientific Committee:
Michele Bacci, University of Freiburg
Philippe Cordez, Universität München
Frédéric Elsig, University of Geneva
Christian Heck, University of Lille 3
Herbert Kessler, Johns Hopkins University
Pierre Alain Mariaux, University of Neuchâtel
Roland Recht, Paris, Collège de France
Marc Schurr, University of Strasbourg
Jean Wirth, University of Geneva



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s