Discourses of Art History and Visual Culture in Italy
Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut
9–10 December 2021
Even though the term ‘identity’ has become exponentially frequent in art history, it remains a fluid, controversial, and potentially toxic category. Considering the specificities of Italian art and visual culture, the workshop will focus attention on the concept of ‘identity’, investigating its definitions, its uses, and the problems they pose, by analyzing works of art and artistic phenomena across the centuries (from the Middle Ages to Modernity) in relation to historiographical and methodological discourses.
The history of Italian art has considered the question of ‘identity’ in relation to the formation of artistic individuality (Margot and Rudolf Wittkower, Lina Bolzoni, Patricia Rubin) as well as in relation to communities, questioning the idea of a national “historical consciousness of Italian art” (Ferdinando Bologna, Giulio Carlo Argan, Maurizio Fagiolo Dell’Arco, Giuseppe Galasso). The historiography of Italian art, however, has rarely embraced the discussion of concepts of ‘identity’ that have been carried out since the 1970s, when ‘individual identity’ was understood as a negotiable variable, constructed within discursive (Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida) and performative practices (Judith Butler), and ‘collective identity’ was framed as “imagined”, “invented”, or “symbolic” (Benedict Anderson, Eric Hobsbawn, Jan Assmann), or as a “lie” (Kwame Anthony Appiah). Since the late 1990s, with the emergence of identitarian movements, the term has assumed a further and controversial ideological connotation, and debates on an assumed “Italian cultural identity” are still an everyday occurrence.
The problem of ‘artistic identity’ could be seen in new ways if confronted with the agency of images with their active, foundational, stabilizing, or even destructive potential, for example with their materiality, which carries and produces ‘identities’ that can persist, intertwine, or change over time. The category of ‘artistic heritage’ adds further complexity to the problem and invites to an urgent reflection on the paradox of conservation, preservation, and historicization of ‘cultural identity’ which, instead, “does not exist” (François Jullien) and is by definition processual, fluid, and in constant negotiation. Can ‘identity’ still be considered a valid hermeneutic category or should it be replaced with alternative concepts? Is it possible to turn “against identity” (Francesco Remotti), giving up this concept in the history of Italian art, also in the light of, for example, decolonial and intersectional perspectives within the discipline?
The workshop aims to foster a transdisciplinary debate open to contributions that, through case studies, critically discuss concepts of ‘identity’ and invite reflection on the methods of art history. Preference will be given to approaches that consider transversal processes such as the attribution of identity, its replacement, reproduction, and negation; exclusion and inclusion; the performativity, mobility, and immobility of identity; integrity, fragmentation, authenticity; the legacies and persistences of identities. Proposals may consider, but also go beyond, the following topics:
- institutions, methodologies, historiographies (the language of the history of Italian art, stylistic attribution as identity practice, formations and re-formations of art historical canons);
- constructions of ‘the self’ of the artist (style as identity; portrait, self-portrait, signature; artistic ‘schools’) and of the patron (palaces, galleries, collections);
- genius loci, city, territory, nations (geographical and political representations of power, visual strategies of national or civic identity);
- monument, heritage, cultural memory (media and modes of propaganda, myths and rites of foundation, celebrations, centenaries);
- religious, devotional, confessional identities (churches, nations, chapels);
- exhibition narratives (museums, exhibition shows, reinterpretation of historical periods, exhibition display).
The workshop, organized by Davide Ferri (KHI–MPI / Universität Bern) and Giada Policicchio (KHI–MPI / Università degli Studi di Salerno), will take place on 9–10 December 2021 in Florence and/or online (Zoom). We welcome proposals from PhD students as well as early career researchers. Please send an abstract of up to 300 words, together with a short biographical statement, to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by 12 July 2021. Papers, in Italian or English, should be of 20 minutes in length.
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