FYI: below is a press release concerning the upcoming exhibition
"Writing on Hands: Memory and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe", which
will be on display at The Trout Gallery in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. this fall & winter.
The exhibition focuses on 15th-through 17th-century images in which the
hand is used as a means to transmit or code information, including sign
language, alchemical symbolism, palmistry, the "Guidonian Hand", and much more.
An illustrated scholarly catalogue and website (www.writingonhands.org) accompany the exhibition; the website will be open on Septemper 8th.
"...the soul is like the hand; for the hand is an instrument of
instruments, and in the same way the mind is the form of forms."
Aristotle, De Anima, 3.8
From the earliest surviving figurative imagery to the present day,depictions of the hand symbolize human or divine action, power,
creativity, intelligence, and manual skill. An original exhibition,
WRITING ON HANDS: Memory and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, explores
the use and importance of these images in codifying and extending
knowledge-from the mathematical and musical to the astrological and
spiritual realms-in 15th- through 17th- century Europe. WRITING ON HANDS examines representations of the hand independent of the body, as figures of both generic and individual human identity.
The Trout Gallery of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania is
sponsoring WRITING ON HANDS which opens there on September 8, 2000 and
runs through November 25, 2000; it will then travel to The Folger
Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, opening on December 13, 2000, and
closing on March 4, 2001. The curator of the exhibition is Dr. Claire
Richter Sherman, author of Imaging Aristotle: Verbal and Visual
Representation in Fourteenth-Century France. Dr. Sherman is Project Head Emerita of Sponsored Research in the History of Art, published by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art. She has published widely on medieval art and art historiography and
lectures throughout the United States and Europe.
Dr. Sherman has assembled prints, manuscripts, and printed books from the 11th through the 17th centuries to examine woodcuts, engravings and
drawings featuring representations of the hand inscribed with, or
surrounded by, lines, letters, words, symbols and numbers to support the
thesis that visual representation plays a vital role in cognitive
processes. Organized according to theme, more than eighty works in the
exhibition embrace such fields as anatomy, religion, philosophy,
psychology, music theory, mathematics, literature, emblematics, and the
occult. While referring to relevant medieval traditions, the time frame
of the exhibition-1466 to 1700-shows how, in conjunction with developing print technology, major currents of thought, such as humanism, the
Reformation, and the scientific revolution, affected representations of
the inscribed hand. The very earliest works of authors, like the Venerable Bede, Peter of Rosenheim and Hugo Spechtshart, though known originally in manuscript form, achieved wider influence in printed formats. The illustrated book served to disseminate widely all types of established knowledge, old and new, rational and irrational. The subsequent development of accompanying visual imagery underscores the lasting importance of pictorial representation in cognitive processes.
Dr. Peter M. Lukehart, Director of The Trout Gallery, says he is "proud to host such a distinguished collection of early modern prints, books, and manuscripts for this ambitious exhibition." Included in the exhibition are woodcuts from Albrecht Drer, etchings by Rembrandt, engravings after Gerard de Lairesse and Hendrik Goltzius, and books by Robert Fludd, Johann Hartlieb, Andreas Vesalius and William Harvey. The objects are drawn from the collections of the The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, The Folger Shakespeare Library, Library of Congress, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, National Library of Medicine, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library and The Walters Art Gallery.
Claire Sherman suggests that the underlying function of the images
collected for this exhibit are to understand, order, and recall abstract
concepts related to universal human experience and culture. These images of the hand serve as iconic metaphors, bodily mnemonics and cognitive maps encompassing processes of association, memory and recollection. The exhibition themes are:
Reading the Writing on Hands, the first part of the exhibition,introduces the topic's universal associations. Mentor, Map, and Metaphor explores the hand as a distinctively generic and individual human trait. Identity, Creativity, and Intelligence shows the hand's identification with notions of creativity, intelligence, skill, agency and power.
Medical imagery then explores the material qualities of
the hand. The Handiwork of the Creator considers anatomical prints and
book illustrations of the body as evidence of design by a supreme divine
or natural authority (The Noblest Creation) and the hand as specific
evidence of such intent in The Instrument of Instruments.
Messengers of the World examines the connections between
the hand, brain, senses, and memory. Of particular importance are prints and book illustrations that demonstrate the various interpretations of The Sense of Touch. Arranged in an ordered sequence as different ways of Inscribing Memory, a series of images reveal their essential role in cognitive processes.
Knowledge on Hand discusses the hand as a teaching and
learning device. Manipulating Time demonstrates how the revival of an
ancient system of coded finger gestures that enables counting to a million became associated with reckoning of secular and sacred operations, including computing the liturgical calendar. Related to the calculating hand, Steps to Singing surveys the so-called Guidonian hand as a popular method to learn and teach basic principles of solmization and music theory. Companion of Eloquence investigates the appearance in the 17th century of visual representations of coded gestures designed for rhetorical and dramatic expression, as well as systems of fingerspelling for teaching the deaf.
The Whole World in the Hand first introduces the powerful
concept and imagery of man as an ordered and harmonious microcosm of the
universe. One example, the depiction of zodiacal man, employs astrological and medical analogies in The Body as Microcosm. Next, Signs upon the Hand reveals how the hand represents both the corporeal and spiritual relations of the body to the macrocosm. From its introduction in the 12th century, chiromancy, later known as palmistry, used the natural marks of the hand to divine the character and fate of individuals.
The Hand of the Philosopher explores alchemy, a pervasive human quest to achieve material and spiritual purification of base natural materials. Images reveal the complex search for knowledge that combines premodern chemical methods to achieve medical benefits and wealth with Christian and other mystical beliefs.
In the exhibition's final section, imagery of Guiding
Hands from the early 16th through the 17th century functions as a site of meditation and reflection. Hands provide the mnemonic scaffolding for spiritual exercises as Defenders of Faith, or as agents or performers of religious acts. Hands in secular emblem books behave as Guardians of Morals, uniting visual and verbal meaning to emphasize a series of ethical and political maxims.
A fully illustrated, scholarly catalogue written by Dr. Sherman and edited by her and Dr. Peter M. Lukehart will accompany the exhibit. Essays were contributed by internationally known scholars Brian Copenhaver, University of California, Martin Kemp, University of Oxford, Sachiko Kusukawa, Trinity College, Cambridge University and Susan Forscher Weiss, Peabody Conservatory, The Johns Hopkins University. The catalogue will be available at the exhibition; for information on obtaining the catalogue ($35.00 plus p+h) please contact Stephanie Keifer at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (717) 245-1344.
This exhibition is funded, in part, by the National Endowment for the
Arts. Additional support is provided by the generosity of the Ruth Trout Exhibition Fund, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the participation of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC.
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