Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture

Mimetic Earthenware: Italian Renaissance Pottery as a Nexus Technology

  • Marta Ajmar (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
Date
30 March 2017
Time
Series
Material Agency Forum
Address
University Library
Witte Singel 26-27
2311 BG Leiden
Room
Heinsius room

Thanks to a number of technological innovations – from the “white canvas” of tin-glazed earthenware or maiolica to a significantly augmented range of pigments and formats allowing for an increased naturalism to emerge – from the late fifteenth century onwards Italian ceramics embraced figuration.

This perception of pottery as figurative and in a position of exclusive and unilateral dependence on painting is misleading, however, and ought to be counterbalanced by an opening out of this medium as a nexus technology, emerging from and feeding into a multiplicity of interrelated material practices and domains of knowledge. In this paper I will see how, when shifting from a reductively visual to an expanded material approach, from looking at to looking into, pottery will emerge as a technology engaged with exploring reflexively its own elemental materiality and imitative potential as earth. When then taking into account its multiple mimetic strategies, pottery might be framed as a technology of interconnectedness, embodying a multidirectional imitative nexus not just with Renaissance painting, but also sculpture, metalwork and glyptics, thus helping loosen up hardened taxonomies.

Thanks to its connectivity, earthenware will appear as a medium of direct significance to an array of both well-established and nascent fields of Renaissance and early modern learning, including natural philosophy, alchemy, medicine, apothecary, agronomy, geology and mining. And finally, through an approach sensitive to the long-term expansive connections embedded within the DNA of Italian Renaissance pottery, it will be proposed that we need to interrogate its ontology, dismissing the view that frames it exclusively as a chronologically and geographically narrowly located medium and exploring it instead as a cross-temporal and cross-spatial technology informed by material mimesis.