10 January 2012
AAH Student Summer Symposium 2012 - Call for Papers
Art and Science: Knowledge, Creation and Discovery
28 June – 29 June 2012, The Linnean Society, London
Call for Papers
Though their academic paradigms may at first seem diametrically opposed, the association between the arts and the sciences has survived renaissances, revolutions and beyond. This intellectual conjunction has motivated artistic practice and production throughout history, forming the conceptual nucleus of some of the most stimulating forms of creative expression. By engaging with this inter-relationship, we hope to address the traditional divisions that have kept the arts and sciences as separate areas of academic enquiry, whilst at the same time questioning if such an alliance is necessary or profitable for either discipline.
As well as considering general ideas of artistic and scientific collaboration, this year’s Summer Symposium will investigate the interaction between art and science throughout artistic practice, theory and history. Topics for papers could include, but are not limited to:
Artists who work directly or indirectly with science
Medical and anatomical images, diagrams, and the art of science
Architecture and the body
Histories of collection, taxonomies, display and acquisition in the arts and sciences
The role of the science of perception in the development of perspective, figuration and abstraction
The idea of the modern as related to science and technology
The figure of the polymath
Neuroscience and histories of vision
Photography between science and art
Mathematics and beauty – the Golden Section
Technology and the evolving dissemination of art history
Science in art historical conservation and research
Papers should be 20 minutes in length and abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted with a brief biography to: firstname.lastname@example.org by 29 April 2012.
The conference is open to all but speakers need to be student AAH members.
Arlene Leis, University of York, email@example.com
Rebecca Norris, University of Cambridge, firstname.lastname@example.org
Freya Gowrley, University of Edinburgh, email@example.com
See more details >
14 November 2011
John Fleming Travel Award 2011 - Recipient's Report
A Research Trip to the Baroque Towns of South-Eastern Sicily
Martin Nixon (PhD Candidate, University of York).
The John Fleming Travel Award is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students studying art, art history or architecture. The aim of the award is to encourage a better understanding and exploration of the arts from around the world. The Award is to enable students to travel as a means of assisting or furthering their research.
The John Fleming Travel Award is sponsored by Laurence King Publishing who offer this award of £2000 annually in memory of the art historian John Fleming, co-author with Hugh Honour, of the book, A World History of Art.
The 2011 Award went to Martin Nixon from the University of York, for his research on the baroque towns of south-eastern Sicily. His report is below:
A Research Trip to the Baroque Towns of South-Eastern Sicily
In 1693 a major earthquake destroyed or mainly destroyed most of the towns in the south-eastern part of Sicily, including the populous cities of Catania and Syracuse, and the subsequent rebuilding produced a huge number of architectural commissions, as well as new urban forms for some of the towns. In 2002 eight of these sites were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list under the title ‘The Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto’. Although a part of its architectural heritage has now been recognised by UNESCO, the region overall has received relatively little attention from international scholars and I hope that my research will contribute to a greater understanding of this aspect of Italian art.
In October 2011, aided by the John Fleming Travel Award, I visited Sicily for a research trip. I had made a short preliminary visit earlier in the year but the greater amount of time on this trip meant I could spend several days in some of the towns, thus gaining a general familiarity with the different churches, palazzi and street layouts more quickly. I was also able to return to buildings in the same day or week, something that was very useful for making certain kinds of comparisons, rechecking details and gaining new ideas. I also spent time with some of the principal Sicilian scholars, conducted research in the archives in Palermo and Modica, and looked at published material in bookshops and libraries. The time spent in conversation with other researchers was particularly important, as was the ability to visit archives and bookshops. A lot of the existing research on the Val di Noto architecture is published in Sicily and is very difficult to find elsewhere.
I began the trip in Catania, the city in the shadow of Mount Etna and one of the places that was worst hit by the 1693 earthquake. Catania was rebuilt according to a geometric layout centred on the cathedral of Saint Agatha, and from the cathedral square four long streets extend into the distance. These streets have mainly kept their Baroque facades and if one walks down the long Via Etnea when there are few people around, past the palaces and churches and through the university piazza to the cathedral piazza, it’s possible to see the kind of scenic effect that the original architects intended. The dark grey volcanic stone on the buildings and the cobblestones gives a strong unity, and the different shades of grey and frequent use of rusticated pilasters on facades distinguish the architecture of Catania from that of other parts of Sicily. It was also useful to note how the presence of the same materials, as well as certain elements of the eighteenth-century style, continued up to the first half of the twentieth century, something that I later realised was true for other parts of Sicily and which gives a certain visual continuity to many of the Sicilian townscapes.
After Catania I travelled to Ragusa and Modica in the extreme south east of Sicily. At the time of the earthquake, when Sicily was under Spanish rule, this area was governed by the Counts of Modica as an autonomous fiefdom and it was useful to compare the rebuilding of the towns on this limestone plateau with what I had seen in Catania. Ragusa is a particularly interesting case of rebuilding because a new town, Ragusa Alta, was founded overlooking the site of the pre-earthquake Ragusa Ibla. After the earthquake one group of inhabitants wanted to rebuild Ragusa Ibla whereas another group saw the opportunity to move to a new site. This conflict was related to an existing rivalry between citizens owing allegiance to different patron saints and, unable to reach a compromise, one group built a new town for themselves. The two reconstructions in Ragusa, with Ragusa Alta rebuilt mainly on the existing street layout and Ragusa Alta built on a grid, and with two new cathedrals built contemporaneously but with strong stylistic differences, merit more comparative research.
Further comparisons can be made with the nearby town of Modica, built along the inside walls of a gorge almost like a reverse image of Ragusa’s site on ridges above gorges. This town also experienced a disagreement between two groups owing allegiance to different patron saints and, although all of Modica was rebuilt essentially on the pre-earthquake street plan, the upper and lower areas have different cathedrals which, as with the cathedrals in Ragusa, show different stylistic emphases, particularly with regard to the facades.
An often noted feature of Sicilian baroque is its use of intricate decoration and ornate mask-like figures, particularly below balconies and around windows and doorways. This decoration is found throughout the island but is particularly marked in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century mansions of the south east and I was able to photograph many examples in Ragusa, Modica, and Catania. From Modica I also travelled to Scicli, another of the UNESCO towns, to see some particularly striking examples of this intricate Sicilian stone carving. Scicli is one of Europe’s southernmost towns and, on a day when the rain poured in streams down the sides of the road, quickly dismissing any ideas of a Mediterranean arcadia, I found myself the only passenger on the bus that lurched around the hairpin bends as the driver tried to see out of the window. Upon arrival, and with the rain relenting, Scicli turned out to be a very beautiful example of a small Sicilian town and, even though it has been used as the setting for the popular Italian ‘Inspector Montalbano’ television series, one still has the feeling of exploring a little-known place.
The Palazzo Beneventano in Scicli has a series of carved mask-like figures on the sides facing the street, images which may be there as guardians to ward off bad luck and which are often reproduced in surveys of Sicilian baroque. Other highlights in Scicli include the interiors of the churches of Saint Theresa and Saint John the Baptist, with their beautiful Rococo interiors and detailed ornament in delicate blue and white, and the views from the church of Saint Matthew, built on a rock overlooking the town and intended to be the main church but abandoned in the nineteenth century due to its inconvenient location. The history of the towns in the area, and in particular the conflicts over the rebuilding of Ragusa and Modica, the abandonment of the church of Saint Matthew in Scicli and similar issues in other towns such as Noto, Lentini and Avola where the sites chosen for rebuilding were too far from essentials such as water supplies, all show how architecture and urban plans were changed in accordance with the practical and social needs of the population, and also demonstrate a more general point that the needs and aspirations are not the same for all of the populace.
My final stop was Palermo where I was able to see the spectacular marble interiors of the churches of the Casa Profesa and Saint Catherine as well as important eighteenth-century sculptural decoration such as the stucco by the Serpotta workshop in the oratories of Saint Zita and Saint Domenic, and compare this with what I had seen in the south east of the island. As the island’s principal city, Palermo also has archives such as the Biblioteca Centrale della Regione Siciliana where I was able to read the original copies of some architectural treatises and a rare eighteenth-century book written by one of the aristocratic patrons involved in the post-earthquake rebuilding. Palermo was also useful for the bookshops that contain a wide range of publications on my area of research.
Another important part of the visit was the chance to meet Sicilian scholars, and I would like to mention here those people who generously gave their time to help me. In Ragusa I was fortunate enough to be shown round by Professor Giorgio Flaccavento and his family. Professor Flaccavento is from Ragusa and has made a lifetime study of this part of Sicily, and on our walks through Ragusa he talked about the conflicts between the different groups in the rebuilding of the town and the way that such things as small anomalies and irregularities in the outline of a piazza or the alignment of buildings can give clues to the existence of previous structures and of architectural changes over time. We also talked of how certain features of a Baroque style sometimes continued into the nineteenth century, and of the difficulty this brings to deciding any kind of concluding point to this architecture. Gaudenzia Flaccavento, who is also an architectural historian, gave some interesting insights on the rebuilding of the church of Saint John the Baptist in Ragusa Alta.
In Scicli I met Professor Paolo Nifosì, another expert on Sicilian architecture. We talked about the strong tradition of stone carving found there and also about the fact that in general most research has been carried out on ecclesiastical buildings and that less has been written on the private palazzi and their decorated facades, and how the absence of archival information on these buildings has contributed to this. In Palermo, Professors Marco Rosario Nobile and Stefano Piazza of the architectural faculty were helpful and generous with their time, as were Professor Sabina de Cavi and Professor Isidoro Turdo and the staff in the rare books section of the Biblioteca Centrale in Palermo.
Spending several days walking around, and living in, the sites also allows for some unexpected conversations and encounters that bring new details to one’s notice. Whilst in Ragusa with Professor Flaccavento a retired stonemason, who was passing by and had stopped on recognising the professor, told us how he had learnt to carve stone by watching and copying the other masons. No drawings or diagrams were used in teaching this skill, a survival perhaps of the way in which the earlier stonemasons and sculptors were taught. On another occasion, whilst sheltering from the rain in Scicli, a passer-by mentioned how it was difficult to see the façade of the church of Saint John the Baptist because of later buildings that were added nearby. I returned to the site and saw how these additions exemplify the fact that in architectural history we aren’t always able to see what the original architects intended. As a final example, the church of Saint Lucia in Modica was undergoing restoration and when being shown around by the sacristan who had the key, he mentioned that to prevent blocking the narrow streets the church had a separate entrance and exit, something which may also explain why the buildings façade is hidden in a small courtyard rather than facing onto the street.
I returned from Sicily with a greater familiarity with the towns and their architecture and new questions to pursue that can only come through spending time at the site, conversing with people and spending time alone looking at the architecture. I am now going through all of the notes I made and the photos I took and have started thinking about my next visit in 2012.
Martin Nixon. 9 November 2011. See more details >