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Art History CFPs for RSA 2017 Chicago
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The Troublesome Ornament

Posted By Irene B. Backus, Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The discourse of ornament from Vitruvius to Loos is freighted with philosophical and even moral implications. In the early modern period, ornament could be viewed as antithetical to the harmony, balance, and rationality of Burkhardian Renaissance ideals, and as a disruptor to the Vasarian narrative of the triumph of figurative mimesis and artistic imagination.  Ornamental motifs compose an extraordinarily rich and imaginative aspect of pre-modern visual culture.  Often associated with architecture, ornament not only serves to order lived space, as Ernst Gombrich has argued, but also the planar surface of its support.  Beyond the architectural, it shapes not only the fabric but also the very definition of what modern scholarship has inherited as the "minor" or "decorative" arts.  Ornament has been attacked as artifice, dismissed as surface, and celebrated as craft.

This panel seeks to examine the ornamental and decorative by challenging the art-historical precept that they lack sensible signification and asking what they are, where they overlap, and how they mean in the pre- and early-modern worlds.  Ornament exists in the spaces between, whether a gilded frame or a mobile, foreign object.  It resists decoding because it lies outside the view through the window of Renaissance pictorialism.  But it is precisely by its liminality and its potential abstraction that ornament can serve to broaden the representation-centric narrative of western art, not only geographically, but also philosophically.

Please send: 150 word abstract and two-page CV to Irene Backus ( and Ashley Jones ( by Tuesday, 31 May 2016.

Tags:  Art History  cross-cultural  frames  framing  material culture  ornament 

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