Friday, 2 September 2016

Summer 2016: In Bruges... - By Julia Dijkstra

For the Patrician Patronage Project, it was a summer to look forward to. Last year, we decided it was time to formally present the PPP-database to a wider (scientific) audience, to get more input on our work and to gain scholarly attention. No better place to do so than at the Sixteenth Century Society Conference (SCSC), held this year from the 18th till the 20th of August in the picturesque city of Bruges (Belgium).

Summer in Bruges
Within the Humanities, the SCSC conference is an annual meeting of Early Modern scholars which aims to explore the ‘long sixteenth century’, broadly defined from ca. 1450 to ca. 1660. Every year the conference is organised in a different city. Not often, however, the SCSC-meetings are scheduled in Europe. Therefore, it was the perfect opportunity for the whole PPP-team to attend. After submitting a proposal for a panel last March, the PPP was invited to host a session at the conference solely dedicated to the art patronage of Florentine patricians during Medici (grand-)ducal rule.
Unlike European conferences, where there is only one set programme, the ‘American style’ in which conferences like the SCSC are organized is characterized by different sessions taking place at the same time (up to 30 sessions simultaneously!). Every session (or panel) takes about one and a half hours and normally features three speakers, after which a short coffee or lunch break is programmed. These breaks provide the perfect opportunity to meet new scholars or just chat to familiar faces. The first panels start as early as 8.30h and the last one ends at 17.00h. After these ‘formal’ sessions, an evening programme starts. Different kinds of gatherings are organized by affiliated societies and institutions (most of them only accessible upon invitation).

Fortunately for us, this year’s SCSC promised to be an interesting one. More than a thousand scholars from different disciplines in early modern studies registered for the conference! A wide range of topics - from (art) history, Ottoman studies, literary and cultural studies, to digital humanities and network studies - were about to be presented. Downside to this whole story: how do you choose which sessions to attend?! What I learned is that you can’t do it all. There are simply too many sessions taking place at the same time. While discussing the sessions I had chosen from my booklet (just for your knowledge, the programme counted over a hundred pages!), it soon turned out that my fellow PPP-colleagues Sanne and Lotte had picked out almost the same sessions from the lot. Not surprisingly, the sessions we wanted to attend mostly included panels about Italian art (on artists such as Michelangelo), digital humanities, art patronage and early modern networks. Especially thought provoking in my opinion were the contributions on digital humanities, from which I gained a lot of new tips and tricks and dos and don’ts for our own Patrician Patronage Project. In particular I learned a lot from the contribution of Ellen Prokop of The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library and their El Greco project.

Lotte van ter Toolen introducing the Patrician Patronage Project
After two full days of conference and the general reception on Friday evening at the Belfort (where they served a lot of tasty appetizers and the local beer ‘Brugse Zot’), our panel was due on Saturday at 8.30 in the morning… Despite the sociable reception, the PPP-team rose early and in good spirits (maybe due to the Brugse Zot). Our panel was programmed in one of the fancier rooms of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, located in the city centre, and around 8.30h the room filled with interested listeners. Almost all the seats were taken, which - if I may say so - is quite an accomplishment at a conference such as the SCSC, when there are so many panels to choose from.
Sanne Roefs presenting the first paper of the panel
Klazina Botke (organiser of the session) welcomed everybody to our panel. Then, Lotte van ter Toolen (chair of our session) started her introduction of the panel and the database. She introduced the aims and prospects of our project, and then showed the different aspects of the database and the information that is entered into it. Sanne Roefs followed with her paper on a ‘textbook case’ Florentine patrician under Medici rule: Agnolo Guicciardini (1525-1581). In her paper, Sanne showed how Agnolo Guicciardini - in his capacity as deputy of duke Cosimo I (an office called luogotenente) of the first art academy (Accademia del Disegno) in Florence - influenced (or perhaps even shaped) the cultural policy of Duke Cosimo de’Medici. Secondly, attention was also given to Cosimo’s funerary procession in 1574 in Florence. New archival material - found by Sanne herself - shows that Agnolo was the main organizer of the event and that he actively tried to emulate the funeral of Charles V in Brussels 1558, thereby elevating the status of deceased grand duke Cosimo I to that of his European counterparts. I, in contrast, presented a case study on the sculptural collection of two ‘anti-Medicean’ brothers, Niccolò and Lorenzo Ridolfi. After summing up what their collections comprised of and how they might have been displayed, the focus was on the appearance of busts of Brutus in both their collections. Could this particular bust have symbolized a certain anti-Medicean stance of its patron? Professor Van Veen (in his role as referent) concluded the panel by summarizing the two papers and by linking the outcomes to the aim of the Patrician Patronage Project. He underscored the relevance and importance of our PPP-research, and furthermore the rich field of study that still awaits to be uncovered.
Me caught on camera while giving my paper
After a session of slightly more than an hour, there was time for questions. Critical questions were asked; about the content of the lectures, but also about the scope of the project and the abilities of our database. Of course, we were more than happy to answer all these questions, in the hope of infecting the audience even more with our enthusiasm for the project. And then the end of our one-and-a-half-hour session arrived. The PPP-team gathered for lunch afterwards, and could finally relax, enjoy a bit of sunny Bruges and celebrate the successful outcome of the session.
Professor Henk van Veen answering questions about the project
Attending conferences like SCSC always inspire me. Hearing about so many different research projects and meeting so many new people, provides a lot of new input for one’s own research. Not all sessions are equally inspiring (sometimes the title of a session can be slightly misleading), and at times it is also a bit tiresome - especially when you have to run through the whole of Bruges to get to the different venues scattered around the city centre - but the unexpected gems amongst the papers make more than up for that.

I’d say it was an inspiring summer for the Patrician Patronage Project. In the coming Academic year the PPP-team and the future interns of the project will keep sharing their stories on this blog. So if you are in for some interesting (art historical) stories, keep checking this website regularly, or like us on Facebook (Patrician Patronage Project)!

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