Summer School Crossroads: Report by T. Asmussen, F. Hilfiker, A. Rathmann Lutz

Summer School Shaping Europe: Imagined Spaces and Cultural Transactions 1450 - 1700
2010: Crossroads

with: Proff. Dominique Brancher, Susanna Burghartz, Christine Göttler, Anthony Grafton, Ina Habermann, Margaret Healy, Thomas Healy, Silvana Seidel Menchi, Jeanette Nuechterlein, Susanne Scholz, Anita Traninger  

Basel, 29.8.2010 - 4.9.2010

The first of three sections of the International Summer School „Shaping Europe: Crossroads“ entitled „Networks of Communication“ opened with a lecture by Silvana Seidel-Menchi (Pisa) on „The Local goes Global. Erasmus as Politician“. Seidel-Menchi convincingly showed that a locatable specific event may eventually originate something global, i.e. durable and general. Her exemplary close reading of the political situation in London in March 1514, more precisely of a speech in Parliament in favour of the possible ‚recapture’ of France in comparison with a letter of Erasmus to Antony of Bergen offers an interesting insight in the mechanisms of Erasmus’ politics of production and transmission of ideas. In his occasional, politically motivated letter Erasmus already formulated a concept of pacifism that would be published a year later by Froben in Basel, thus becoming ‚global’ (or rather: European). 

Another aspect of the Erasmian network was adressed by Anita Traninger (Berlin) in her lecture „Framing Erasmus – Historical Person and Textual Persona“. Traninger traced at least three different „figures“ in Erasmus’s life and work: First, and elusive behind the others, Erasmus „the man“, second, the medialized Erasmus – an image carefully elaborated and shaped by Erasmus himself, and third the persona of the texts – which makes it possible to distance the author from the narrator of the texts. Traninger identified the declamatio as the genre in which this separation of author and persona is possible and which also is frequently used to articulate a critique. Writing the humanistic declamatio opens up a space which allows for, and even invites uncertainties and ambivalences.

In her lecture on „Holbein, Humanism, and Publishing in Basel“ Jeanne Nuechterlein (York) raised the question of what might be „humanist painting“ or „Reformation painting“. Using Hans Holbein the Younger and his career aspirations as example she showed that the artist fitted well into the humanist networks where his skills were required, but nevertheless was not an integral part of that group. Secondly Nuechterlein argued that Holbein was well prepared to show his skills and his know-how at the right place at the right time: he conceived „show pieces“ for every possible audience or patron, be it burghers of Basle, printers and Humanists, the French or the English court. And he moved rather smoothly within different European networks to achieve remuneration and status.

The programm was enriched on the following three days by guided visits to the Historisches Museum, Basel, the Kunstmuseum, Basel, the Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, and the Pharmazeutisches Museum, Basel.

The second section was entiteld „Sites of Mediation“. In her lecture on “The Secrets of Silenus. Art, Mythology, and Local History in Early Seventeenth Century Antwerp. Ruben’s Sleeping Silenus in the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts”, Christine Göttler (Bern) presented a collaborative painting which combines the figure of a sleeping Silenus in a grotto, painted by Peter Paul Rubens, with a banquet still life of an unknown painter, showing different kinds of luxury drinking vessels which were produced in Antwerp, Chinese bowls, and jugs, sometimes with the décor of maritime sceneries, representing and reflecting Antwerp’s status as a major trading city as well as the involvement of the merchant-collectors in these global networks. The painting shows a tension between the mythological figure of Silenus on the one hand, who is associated with ‘secrets’ and, most of all, ‘secret knowledge’, and on the other hand the material objects of the banquet still life, which themselves also carry a message about the high value of knowledge. The diverse precious vessels, the Chinese bowl made of porcelain or the shimmering, shiny, and reflecting façon de Venise glasses point towards the specific knowledge required in the manufacturing process, specifically knowledge about mathematics and alchemy. On a second level the painting technique exhibits this knowledge also through the shimmering surface of the painting, thus establishing a correspondence between the artist’s skill and the technique of glassmaking. Art, craft, and alchemy are shown to be closely interrelated.

In her lecture entitled “Making Europe, forming elites, creating New Worlds: The Workshop of the de Bry and their editorial projects” Susanna Burghartz (Basel) spoke about the workshop of the de Bry family and their editorial project of the America Series. Three sections covered a biographical approach, book history, and representations / discourses ‘of the west and the rest. Theodore de Bry, with his sons Johan Theodore and Johan Israel who continued his work, and later on Johan Theodore’s son-in-law Matthaeus Merian, published the fourteen volumes of the Grands voyages, as the America Series was called, between 1590 and 1630. From the beginning, the Grands voyages were available in four languages (French, Latin, German, English). In contrast, for example, to Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, the de Bry followed a ‘supra-national’ concept and combined in their volumes travel accounts from different nations. Although their main focus was travelogues of Protestant writers, they also included texts by Catholic travellers. It is possible to trace a strong market orientation of the de Bry an their editing project, above all from volume nine, when the Dutch entered the oceans and thus the series. Alongside the texts, the America volumes include a huge number of engravings. By way of example, Burghartz presented the engraving showing Captain Laudonniere with the indigenous inhabitants of Florida and the encounter between members of a ship-crew and mermaids swimming in a bay off Newfoundland. Through the palpable tension between distancing and belonging, between longing, curiosity and danger, between attraction and repulsion, the engravings visualize and reflect the difficulty of encounters and the process of self-positioning. With the collection, (re-)combination and edition of the travelogues and the engravings, the de Bry contributed to a “imaginary archive”, out of which the new topographies of identity were shaped.



The last section was devoted to the „Intersections of Knowledge“. In her lecture „Anatomical Prints“ Dominique Brancher focused on anatomical illustrations and flap broadsheets – published in Basle and held by the university library – as intersections of anatomical knowledge, erotics and theology. She argued that a shift took place from religious imagery to anatomical icons. The scientific discourse on sexuality and reproduction manifests itself in the face of the history of creation. Especially the popular interest in the female body, its reproductive organs and the mystery of childbirth was transmitted by religious images of Adam and Eve. Brancher related a tradition from late medieval shrine Madonnas, which one can open to see the mystery of incarnation, to the fifteenth century flap anatomy prints. They are all playing with the hiding and unveiling of the mystery of the female body and the body of the saint. The invisible is made visible. In contrast, the spectator’s gaze on the female body in flap anatomy prints was rather a voyeuristic curiosity in a more scientific age.

In the second lecture “Paracelsian Bodies and the chemical imagination” Margaret Healy stressed on the knowledge that travels; its circulation and validation as well as the shifting of popular and elite cultures of knowledge. Little is known about Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), who gave himself the name Paracelsus. Hardly anything was published during his lifetime, but throughout the centuries different identities were ascribed to him. He became a wide screen on which many qualities could be projected; he was condemned as charlatan, glorified as godfather of new medicine or compared with Luther as a restless fighter for the true belief. Often described as itinerant preacher for his new form of medicine (based rather on direct experience than on learned book-knowledge), his works had great influence on sixteenth and seventeenth century natural philosophy and the establishment of experimental science. The main centres for the distribution of Paracelsian knowledge were the courts. Especially the court of Rudolf II in Prague was a centre for occult knowledge, alchemy and cabbala. Within the channels of courtly communication Paracelsian knowledge travelled, spread and underwent constant transformation.

In the last lecture of the workshop Anthony Grafton highlighted the networks, informants and intermediaries of Jewish knowledge: “Jewish Go-Betweens: Basel-Venice”. He started with two important assumptions: 1. Historical persons are not static or uniform figures but rather complex, acting in different roles at the same time. 2. Networks are imperfect. An ideal flow of information does/did not exist. As a productive model of heuristic value for the analysis of learned networks he presented Peter Galison’s concept of trading zones: in certain places different people, with different interests or different confessions can come together and collaborate. They establish contact languages and various systems of discourse, which would not be possible outside the area of the trading zone. For Grafton, Basel and books printed there were such trading zones. Basel can be analyzed as a crossroads for Jews in Europe; between 1550 and 1650 the city was the most important centre for Jewish knowledge. At a time were Jews were not allowed to live within the city gates, at the printing house of Johann Buxtorf the elder, Catholics, Protestants and Jews collaborated as editors and correctors of Jewish books. The rabbinic bible of Johann Buxtorf as one of the printed products represents itself a trading zone. The book, neither completely Jewish nor Christian, presents a dialogue between the two faiths.

To sum up, the whole week was marked by excellent lectures followed by lively and informed discussions – supported and enriched by contributions by Ina Habermann, Thomas Healy and Susanne Scholz – showing the interferences of printing, trade, religion, art and knowledge making in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. Through the detection and description of various European networks, contact and trading zones, Basel, together with Antwerp, Frankfurt and London, emerges as an important crossroads for the shaping of early modern Europe.

(Tina Asmussen, Franziska Hilfiker and Anja Rathmann-Lutz)