The Independent Junior Research Group "The Knowing Image. Epistemological Foundations of Profane Representations in the 16-19th Centuries" (Art History Institute in Florence)in cooperation with the SNSF-Research Project "From Presentation to Knowledge. Athanasius Kircher and the Visualization of the World" (Department of History/University of Lucerne) is organizing the international conference "Urbs incensa – Aesthetic Transformations of the Burning City from the Ancient World to the Early Modern Period" (Berlin, September 26-27, 2008. The Call for Papers is addressed to scholars and researchers working in humanities, art history and cultural studies.
Since the founding of cities in the earlier high cultures, city fires were among the most haunting experiences to expose the fragility and peril of human existence, on both a material and philosophical level. It is therefore little astounding that fires since ancient times are a crucial topos in fine arts, reflecting collective fears and religious beliefs as much as aesthetic positions. The patterns of interpretation, expressed in literature, fine arts and drama – from divine punishment to illustrious spectacle – tell about the self-perception of the individual in relation to the destructive forces of the elements.
Ever since the legendary destructions of Sodom und Gomorrha, Troy and Rome, burning cities were part of the imagologic stock of European civilizations and functioned as a sort of artistic standard for illustrations of real incidents such as the Great Fire of London of 1666. Scholars like Erasmus of Rotterdam repeatedly reverted to topoi of ancient or biblical conflagrations, but varied them in significant ways at the same time. Painters and art theorists like Cristoforo Sorte, Gian Paolo Lomazzo or Carel van Mander increasingly distanced themselves from classical rules of interpretation and saw an opportunity for artistic bravura in the very event at the same time.
The conference will tackle this constellation of tradition on the one hand and innovation on the other as a result of particular catastrophes. On the basis of its artistic transformations ranging from ancient times to the early modern period, the political, religious, social, economic, medial and aesthetic dimensions of the perception of the burning city shall be analysed. Thus the relevant interrelation of the real incident and the possibilities and aims of its visualization within a historical formation will be focused on. The aim is to inquire the “image”, a certain culture creates of the real, the suspected and the fictional destruction of their urban surroundings and what strategies for the production of meaning influence the various forms of depiction most significantly. By examining concrete works we want to research into the attempts where burning cities were used in the political and religious discourses of their age. Of major importance here are the shifts in public perception in connection with the changes in media technology when accounts of local tragedies are transmitted through popular prints, chronicles and travelogues and thereby transferred into new contexts. Therefore we will furthermore aim to analyse the scopes and boundaries of the specific forms of illustration. What part do illustrations and texts of burning cities play in the formation of historia and memoria, to what extent do they form and bring a cultural memory “up-to-date”, that reaches far beyond the realms of immediate experience?
Especially in connection with other catastrophes such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storms and floods, that are increasingly compared with the incidents of burning cities, works of art appear as attempts to define the precarious relation between nature and culture. What kind of strategies do their poetic, iconic and dramatic presentations exhibit for coping with and overcoming the contingency and force of the catastrophe? How do military, natural or merely human causes for the incidents correlate with the topical suggestions for interpretation or even function as a model for their mutual explanation?
A primary goal of the congress will lie in understanding these incidents of burning cities as culturally and historically important phenomena. In their aesthetic transformations the relevant forms of perception and representation of a certain era are reflected in an outstanding way. As a result of that extensive perspective presentations from diverse fields and disciplines are very welcome.
The congress Urbs incensa will be the first part of a series of four conferences dealing with the subject Destructive elements. Perception and forms of illustration before 1800. The successive conferences will deal with the perceptions of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, floods and storms. The contributions are planned to be published in thematic anthologies.
The deadline for abstract submission is May 31, 2008. Please send your proposal by e-mail to either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Historisches Seminar/Department of History
University of Lucerne
6000 Luzern 7
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