Matters of Weight: Force, Gravity and Aesthetics in the Early Modern Period


organized by David Young Kim

Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut and Universität Zürich

funded by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung

Weight is a fundamental, though often overlooked, property of works of art. The product of mass and gravitation, its purview is vast, extending from tons of stone masonry to a panel's carats of gold and lapis lazuli. In the human circuit responsible for artistic production and reception, weight is an insistent current, implicating assayer and apothecary, notary and artist, patron, installer and beholder. Weight is pounds and ounces, kilograms and milligrams. But beyond these metrological standards, weight is contingent, historically and geographically. It is the classical 'obolus', British 'scruple' and 'dram', Neapolitan 'acino', Lucchese 'coppia', Venetian 'migliaio', Maltese 'salma' and Sicilian 'trappeso'. Not a universal constant but a constructed value, weight exists on a fluid continuum that stretches from practical units of measure to allegorical invention. In turn, weight describes both loads of marble and the artist's colossal task, the gravity of cloth and dignity, the burden of substances and their pictorial representation. To speak of weight is to acknowledge artistic agency and ambition, the deliberate calibration of materials and support which involves risk, at times to the point of collapse. Weight ultimately deals with the 'force' of works of art, their heaviness and thus their presence, a physical and metaphorical characteristic that informs our aesthetic comprehension of things in the world.

"Matters of Weight: Force, Gravity and Aesthetics in the Early Modern Period" seeks to examine the theory and exploitation of weight as an aesthetic category in works of art, 1350-1700. Drawing from the interdisciplinary expertise of specialists in the history of mechanics, painting, prints, sculpture and architecture, this workshop probes the deployment of weight as a compelling denominator in objects of study—be they scientific instruments, canvas paintings, marble sculptures or buildings—in a diverse range of fields. To concentrate and at the same time maximize the impact of discussion, the proposed one-day workshop features speakers who hold a wide spectrum of institutional and national affiliations. Represented are research institutes, museums and universities in Germany, Switzerland, Poland as well as those in the Eastern, Western and Southern United States.

Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut
Palazzo Grifoni
Via dei Servi 51
50122 Firenze
Dr. David Young Kim

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