Invention, Intention, Persuasion:
Self-Expression in Renaissance Arts and Letters
International Colloquium organised by the University of Cambridge at Clare College
In collaboration with the Centre d’Etudes Supérieures de la Renaissance (CESR), Tours. Cambridge, 31 March–2 April 2007
By cutting across the two-fold problematic — the means and patterns of the presence in a work of the artist as well as the patron, and the aims and intentions of expression of this twofold presence/influence — this colloquium sets out to make a contribution to defining the paths followed by invention in Renaissance painting, music, and literature.
In the Renaissance, artistic production is mostly understood in terms of patronage and private support. In studying the presence of the artist in his works, what is most often at stake is the reception and interpretation of the works in a historical setting. Yet in a period which sees the emergence of the idea of the artist in the context of the revaluation of the status of artistic production, it might be argued that questions of style should also be studied in a primary, not to say independent fashion? In contrast, in the field of literature, with the exception of a few examples where the search for a patron had a resulting impact on creativity, patronage is less important. Indeed, if the texts of a few authors are the result of a commission, many others are created by more independent writers — with writing taking place before the search for a patron. In this case there is greater interest in the presence of the writer in his work than that of the patron. But should not the literary work be precisely placed in the political context which saw its creation? In seeking to study the means of creation, the question of the origins of invention and the possible intentions of a work is inescapable.
Paul Veyne has clearly shown that some well known works can reveal an aspect of invention through the analysis of self-expression, what he calls ‘expression roi’ (sovereign expression) as a manifestation of the strength of the patron (cf. the ‘illegibility’ of Trajan’s column). Is it also possible to speak of the visual manifestation of the artist’s strength? We have also noted that the in-depth analysis of less well known works, without clear links to a commission, can convey the author’s self-expression, for example of his desire for self-promotion (e.g. the demonstration of the artist’s talents recommended by Machiavelli in The Prince). Is it really possible to speak of an intentional self-expression? And if so, what is its nature?
To take up the phrase which gives its title to Michael Baxandall’s book, we are in fact led to asking ourselves what are the ‘patterns of intention’ in Renaissance arts and letters. The question of intention is indeed essential, but in this case it will not so much be historical as stylistic and political: when intention exists, are we only in the realm of conveying information (Michèle Fogel) or also of conveying belief (Bernard Guenée) arising from propaganda? Propaganda sets out to convince; according to Veyne, its ‘workings are disguised as information’. We will seek to find out whether artistic creation can be understood according to these two intentions: expression and persuasion, expression or persuasion. The question of the aims of self-expression is therefore a loaded one. Yet if the reason for a work is not essentially what it has to communicate (Robert Klein), what then does self-expression mean for the creator, or indeed for the patron?
Other questions which we would like to deal with include the following:
- In general, the artist works towards the ‘promotion of his own figure’ (Christian Jouhaud): can we then ask whether the evocation of the artist’s force lies only in that of the patron?
- How does the force of the patron and that of the artist find expression not only in the case of a commissioned work but also in the case of a spontaneous dedication?
- With a work in which writers, artists and musicians are called upon to collaborate, how can intention be balanced with the responses to the commission within the various creative fields and their means of expression? Is it possible to speak of an (idyllic) marriage between self-expression and praise of the dedicatee in the collaborative work?
- Certain secular themes are particularly suitable for self-expression, but what is the situation with religious themes, where the artist’s expression confronts the manifestation of the Creator?
- If we speak of the artist’s intention, then, as Christian Jouhaud recommends, it is in the interests of the ‘creators’ that ‘their works should be received as closely as possible to the intentions for which they were addressed’. If the opposite is the case, can a ‘misunderstanding’ of the work, which then becomes an ‘object of historical investigation’, help, in return, to define the artist’s intention?
- Beyond what is immediately perceptible, comprehensible, in a work, self-expression assumes forms which require of the connoisseur more than an ‘attentive gaze’ (Veyne), a realisation of the artist’s freedom. But what exactly are the limits of artistic freedom in the context of a commission? Can he experiment and ‘amuse’ himself? If so, to what extent? If the artist’s freedom is also to be found ‘in divergences of style’ and if ‘ugliness is deliberate’ (Veyne), can we limit the artist’s presence to areas of excess, to what departs from the rules?
Papers, of 25–30 minutes maximum in length, will be delivered in English and French.
Please send proposals for papers including their title (around 500 words in Word or RTF attachment), including your name, e-mail address, postal address, and academic institution, by 30 September 2006 to the appropriate organiser (please indicate the subject of the message as ‘Self-Expression Colloquium’).
Philip Ford: firstname.lastname@example.org
Isabelle Bouvrande: email@example.com
Tessa Knighton: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notification of acceptances will be sent out on 1 November 2006.
Centre d'Etudes Supérieures de la Renaissance
59, rue Néricault-Destouches - BP 11328
37013 Tours Cedex 1 - France
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