Tempos of Making in the Pre-Modern World, 1200-1800

A line drawn quickly does not usually look the same as a line drawn slowly. It can take five minutes to cut one centimetre of contour in semi-precious hardstones for an inlay decoration. Cycles of hot to cold, moist to dry, bright to dark, condition the manufacture of art materials, the pace and nature of artistic processes, and the degradation of completed artworks. The ebb and flow of market demand and the cyclic provision of elemental energy and natural resources could accelerate or dampen artisanal activities. A need for quickness may help consolidate artistic authorship into a single individual, while pauses and delays may allow for the delegation and distribution of labour. Decisions regarding material choice and structure can demonstrate artistic knowledge of deterioration patterns and accommodation of realities beyond the moment of making. The human eye can perceive more colours in morning light than in candlelight. The gauging of pace often involves bodily senses beyond sight. 

This panel adopts tempo to highlight the multivalence of temporality in making: as time, timing and duration, as rhythm, pacing and speed, and as time-bound ecological patterning of materials and material engagement. It welcomes contributions that examine the role of time in premodern artistic processes across geographies and media (patination, light-sensitive artistic materials, weaving technologies etc), within but not limited to the period between 1200 and 1800.

Session Convenors:

Annika Svendsen Finne, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University; Modern Art Conservation

Wenyi Qian, University of Toronto


Tempos of Making in the Pre-Modern World, 1200-1800

Annika Svendsen Finne and Wenyi Qian (affiliations as above)

Why foreground pre-modern “tempos of making”? In a joint presentation, the session conveners will describe their intentions and respective entry points into the topic, as appreciated through the lenses of their relative art historical and conservation perspectives.  


Ryan Eisenman, University of Pennsylvania

Deferred: Making Enamel Modules in Thirteenth-Century Limoges

For nearly a century (ca. 1180–ca. 1280), artists working in Limoges (Haute-Vienne) produced tens of thousands of champlevé enamels which decorated churches, monasteries,and aristocratic residences across Europe. This scale of production suggests an emphasis on speed, where each step in making an enamel ought to be achieved as quickly as possible. Yet Limoges enamellers operated almost entirely without mechanical reproduction and moreoverprioritized a high degree of visual similarity between their objects, actions requiring precision and careful planning at odds with the apparent rapidity implied by sheer numbers. This paper examines the different paces of work in the thirteenth-century Limoges champlevé enamel industry. First, I demonstrate that Limoges enamellers developed a system of modular production. Standardized dimensions and the re-use of compositional formulas, for example,allowed artists to pre-fabricate elements which could be employed on different object types or stockpiled for later use. I therefore argue that this use of modules effectively displaced the quicker tempo of making to the final stages of production, that is, the assembly and sale of the final object. As a result, Limoges enamellers did not concentrate on creating a supply of finished objects ready for purchase but instead produced premade parts which could be brought together according to client demand. By focusing on changing tempos in the enamelling process, this paper ultimately nuances our understanding of making for the “market” in the thirteenth century.

Lukas Oberem, New York University

Fermented Paintings: A new reading of Antoine Watteau’s ‘L’Enseigne de Gersaint’

‘‘oil paintings executed a long time ago, display more (…) beauty because the colors (…) have had more time to unite, blend, and gradually mix together.’’

André Felibien, Entretiens

Fermented foods hold a peculiar allure for people; partially rotten goods are often consideredmore flavorful than freshly harvested natural produce. This fascination with aged andtransformed goods extends beyond the realm of food. In art, aging plays a critical role, especially when time itself is perceived as the most skillful artist, adding the “final touch.”

The term gallery tone (Galerieton), as the more derogatory term brown sauce, was a nineteenth-century attempt to find a specific term for this preference. Both referred to aging or toning of the artwork that can result from various factors, including exposure to light, or active alteration, such as the use of varnishes. Ernst H. Gombrich, in “Art and Illusion,” has emphasized the significance of this convention, going beyond its role in conservation and regarding it as a paradigm for eighteenth-century painting.

My paper will demonstrate that as early as 1721, aged artworks were a critical subject in painting. Focusing on Antoine Watteau’s “L’Enseigne de Gersaint,” I will provide a new interpretation of the shop sign, highlighting the preference for darkened paintings in theimmediate market surrounding on Pont Nôtre-Dame. By delving into concepts of French art theory, such as pinceau, tout ensemble and delicatesse, I will draw connections between the emerging metaphor of taste – gôut – and the cultural desire for “fermented artworks.”

Emma Hartman, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University; Yale Center for British Art

Unrolling Temporalities in the Making of a Jain Painted Letter-Scroll, c. 1795

The scroll format dictates a particular rhythm of viewing. Vignettes emerge and recede asviewers unfurl a scroll and set their own tempos. Working in this format poses certain challenges for painters, who might rarely see their work unrolled in its entirety. Based on a technical study of a fifty-foot-long eighteenth-century painted letter-scroll, this paper considers how analysis clarifies both the techniques used to produce the object and the pacing of its production.

Originally prepared for a group of Jain merchants from the city of Udaipur in 1795, thisvijnaptipatra scroll is an invitation sent to a monk to spend the next monsoon season in Udaipur. Pictorial vijnaptipatras were popular between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, but extant examples are rare, and little is known about their making. However, because this invitation was produced as part of an annual cycle of travel, we can assume that its production occurred in a tight timeframe, bounded by its commissioning after the monsoon passed in September and the months leading up to the following season. Seemingly endless in length, with over four square meters of detailed painted and gilt surfaces, completing this scroll would have been an immense project. Using the results of technical imaging, microscopy, and spectroscopic techniques, I consider how the time-bound nature of this painted invitation affected the choices artists made, the speed at which they worked, and the modes in which they collaborated.

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