Graduate/Undergraduate Seminar: New Perspectives on Flemish and French Tapestry, 1600–1800
Visiting Professor Koenraad Brosens
Despite the fact that tapestry played a pivotal role in the art, liturgy, and propaganda of the courts and churches of late medieval and early modern Europe, in later centuries the medium was long and largely overlooked by art historians and became prey to many misconceptions. In fact, tapestry scholarship proper only began to mature in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching a zenith in the highly acclaimed Tapestry in the Renaissance and Tapestry in the Baroque exhibitions organized at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2002 and 2007.
As Peter Paul Rubens Chair for the History and Culture of the Southern Low Countries, I would like to examine the history, meaning and function of Flemish and French tapestry from the early seventeenth century to the late eighteenth century and the ways in which our understanding of the medium is shaped by different approaches. Thus, the aim of the seminar is twofold. First, to analyze and criticize the history of tapestry history as it has developed since the middle of the nineteenth century. We will read key texts (most of which were written in English; there will be about five shorter articles written in French) that will give us a comprehensive survey of what has always been considered to be “the” history of Flemish and French baroque and rococo tapestry—a history that evolves around ‘star players’ Rubens, French King Louis XIV and François Boucher; the texts will also allow us to define traditional methodologies and their limitations and pitfalls. Second, to introduce and explore possible new approaches and avenues of research through which we can reach a fuller understanding of tapestry —a new history that is firmly rooted in archival evidence and that uses the socio-economic dimension of the medium (the patterns of the production and trading landscape and the social strategies devised by tapestry producers) to explain artistic innovation (or stagnation) and crosscurrents between both major and minor production centers.
The seminar is accompanied by the international symposium “Woven Paintings”? Flemish and French Tapestry, 1660–1770 (Berkeley, 22–23 November 2013; co-organized by Professor Elizabeth Honig, Professor Katlijne Van der Stighelen and myself) that will bring together leading tapestry scholars from Europe and the US. Final paper projects will critically assess one or more conference papers within the matrix of topics and issues discussed during class.