Wood, Stone, Flesh – Abstracts

Wood, Stone, Flesh: Netherlandish Sixteenth-Century Sculpture and its Social Resonance



Barbara Baert

Skull-Platter. How and Where Does Sculpture Begin? (The Johannesschüssel as Ontology)
The Johannesschüssel is a three-dimensional simulacrum of the head of John the Baptist on a platter. I examine this peculiar sculptural genre through both its material and linguistic connotations. In Indo-European semantics, the root of “head” and “skull” is the same as that of dish, platter, pan, recipient and frame. Heads and skulls are archetypically speaking hollow tools for keeping liquids in a cultic context. Head and platter are essentially equal. They are also directed to what is ‘round’. Analogously, the Johannesschüssel is a tautology: it is head, platter and frame in one semantic cluster. Without the charger, the support, the frame, the head is suspended in a vacuum and not ‘deposited’. Presenting is what the charger does. It points to its contents. “Look at this! Ecce!” it says. Without the platter, John’s beheading could never have become an image. Or rather, without the recipient that doubles the head tautologically, that catches it, bears it and hands it over, the snapshot of the decapitation could not have remained crystallized in the fraction of a moment, on the threshold, and consequently the head could not have become ‘image’ because it was never ‘captured’. The severed head bleeds out on to the ground, decomposes, and is eventually forgotten unless it is retrieved as a relic or re-established as an image.

Beth Mattison

Expression of Death: The Tomb of Érard de la Marck in Liège Cathedral
The attitude towards death in the sixteenth century and its expression in tomb sculpture has long been debated in the scholarly literature. I examine the agency of the tomb by way of the mausoleum of Érard de la Marck (r. 1506-1538), the powerful sixteenth-century Prince-Bishop of Liège. Installed in the choir of the Cathedral of Saint Lambert in 1528, the tomb featured the kneeling Prince-Bishop on a marble base before a bronze sarcophagus, from which emerged a beckoning, horrifying skeleton. Although the mausoleum was destroyed in the late eighteenth century, visual and textual records give a sense of its unique, uncanny appearance. Its vivid presence in the space of the cathedral, ten years before Érard’s death, underlines the tomb’s role as a manifestation of the principality’s agenda.

Tara Bissett

Animated Form: Archisculpture in the early sixteenth-century Low Countries
In the early sixteenth-century Low Countries, the line between architecture and sculpture was not firmly drawn. Among the most important artistic commissions of the time were objects that fell somewhere between architecture and sculpture as we conventionally understand them—portals, altarpieces, candle holders and fountains. Manuals of architecture were dedicated to sculptors, and the candelabra emerged as one of the most authoritative tropes of the merged discourse. Meanwhile, court artists like Jean Mone, were praised for their status as sculptor-architects, crafting virtuoso architecture and emotive statues in works of art that defy our expectations of scale in the production of the monument. Although the categories of microarchitecture, kleinarchitektur and archisculpture are increasingly relevant in these contexts, the complexity of early modern artistic practices needs to be better accounted for in art history.

Franciszek Skibinski

Sepulchral effigies by sculptors from the Low Countries in Central and Northern Europe. Some notes on the cultural exchange in the Renaissance.
Since the middle of the 16th c. sculptors from the Low Countries were often employed to create monumental tombs commemorating rulers as well as members of the noble and civic elite in various parts of Europe. Usually, they were required to follow local custom and taste. Occasionally, however, they introduced new modes of representation, adapting them to a new context. An example of the latter pattern is offered by the transi type of effigy introduced in Poland, Germany and Denmark by the travelling sculptors from the Low Countries. Focusing on a number of such case studies, this contribution aims to explore how the various types of sepulchral effigies were being received in other parts of Europe. In this way, it hopes to shed light on the process of a ‘cultural translation’ involving adaptation and assimilation of the new solutions with regard to tomb sculpture, but also rejection of the aspects unsuitable for the variable local contexts, as well as to outline the logic of such selection.

Ethan Matt Kavaler

Lithic Contention: Aggrandizing the Netherlandish Tomb
Netherlandish sculptors created a number of ever more magnificent tombs in the second half of the sixteenth century—for local nobility, but especially for foreign princes and their retinue. The space surrounding the tombs was crafted as carefully as the stone itself. But the stone—or, rather stones—gave a distinctive material presence to these works. These sculptors greatly contributed to the rapidly changing codes of European funerary monuments. Through export, migration, and the publication of designs they established a series of paradigms for northern European rulers at a time when the resplendent tomb was a chief means of shaping the public identity of this powerful and often interrelated elite.