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Art History CFPs for RSA 2017 Chicago
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Arabesques, grotesques, and the alterity of ornament

Posted By Kathryn B. Moore, Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The associations of ornament with the primitive, exotic, female, irrational, and even criminal were first cohesively articulated in European philosophy of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The ongoing impact of assumptions about the alterity of ornament has meant that similar early modern attitudes have not prompted critical analysis, especially because they may seem inevitable and perhaps even natural.  This session proposes to denaturalize the othering of ornament, and to inquire into the Renaissance origins and interrelation of two related concepts:  The grotesque and arabesque.  We solicit papers that explore how ornament first became a locus for anxieties about deviation, associated with the pagan, heretical and otherwise irrational mindsets of foreigners and women, as well as uncontrolled spread.   We hope to address such questions as:  what were the roles of manuscripts, prints, and printed books in the transmission and global dissemination of the concepts of arabesque and grotesque?  How did the two concepts become visually and conceptually intertwined?  To what extent did these ornamental forms come to constitute the theoretical frame for the conceptual center of early modern art:  the figural and narrative?  And what ultimately is owed to the Renaissance in the formation of a European discourse on the alterity of ornament? 

Please send proposals with CV to the session co-chairs Kathryn Blair Moore and Todd Olson ( and by May 31

Tags:  Art History  Islam  manuscript  Ornament  print 

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