2015 American Association for Italian Studies Annual Conference, University of Colorado, Boulder
IAS-Sponsored Session

More than Mere Playthings: The Minor Arts of Italy II: Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance Italy

Aspn Rms
Thursday, March 26, 2015, 5:30-6:45pm

Organizer and Chair: Organizer: Julia C. Fischer, Lamar University

Abstract for the joint sessions:
The minor arts refer to any art form besides the fine arts of architecture, painting, and sculpture. Though highly praised and valued at the time of their creation, the minor arts remain marginalized in art historical scholarship. Recent studies have attempted to bring the minor arts back to the forefront. For example, Marina Belozerskaya, Kenneth Lapatin, and Marian H. Feldman have revealed the relationships between the minor arts and reception, contextualization, and portability. This session is intended to expand upon the current scholarship and also seeks to discard the modern division between minor arts and fine arts, thereby returning these less known art objects to the mainstream. Papers are welcome to explore a variety of time periods and artistic media of the minor arts, such as reliquaries, mirrors, cameos, jewelry, and figurines. Papers can also approach the topic of the minor arts from a variety of perspectives, including reception, patronage, gender issues, propaganda, and iconography.


Julia C. Fischer, Lamar University
"A Woman’s Weapon: Private Propaganda in the Gemma Augustea and Grand Camée de France"

This paper examines the ways in which Livia and Agrippina the Elder used gemstones as weapons of private propaganda. In particular, by commissioning large Imperial cameos like the Gemma Augustea and Grand Camée de France, both Livia and Agrippina the Elder were advancing themselves as important members of the Imperial family and also promoting their sons as heirs to the throne. Because Livia was successful in getting her son Tiberius on the throne, perhaps in large part due to the gift of the Gemma Augustea to Augustus, Agrippina the Elder decided to utilize a large gemstone as a weapon to persuade Tiberius, her great-uncle and adoptive grandfather, to consider her sons, Caligula, Nero Caesar, and Drusus Minor, as worthy successors. While Agrippina the Elder followed Livia’s example, the former decided to commission a new, updated version that responded to and was in constant dialogue with the Gemma Augustea. Finally, this paper will examine this referentiality between the two cameos in terms of style, size, composition, iconography, and message.

Ashley E. Jones, University of Florida
"The Monumental Minor Arts in Early Medieval Italy"

This paper is part of a project that seeks to situate an obscure class of objects—gold jewelry set with coins and medals—at the intersection of several major currents of inquiry in late antique art. Far from being limited by the objects’ small size to the traditional domain of “Minor Arts,” the thematics of numismatic jewelry extend beyond the luxurious display of wealth and are coterminous with those of the most monumental works of Roman art. Building on concepts that include Lapatin’s “Luxury Arts,” and Ragnar Hedlund’s “Monuments in Miniature,” this paper examines chronologically and stylistically diverse finds of coin set jewelry from Italy. In its very heterogeneity, the corpus of Italian numismatic jewelry can be read as a microcosm of the broader corpus. Fifth- and sixth-century Italy provides a vantage point from which to look back on the history of coin-set jewelry and its co-option of the imperial portrait throughout the Roman world. An examination of objects created in a space and time animated by the tensions between and the unifying ambitions of Ostrogoths, Byzantines, and Lombards, makes it possible to re-read the relationships between earlier coin-set objects, both Roman and barbarian, and thus to better understand the use of the imperial portrait in jewelry as a phenomenon of the borderlands, of liminal spaces both geographic and conceptual.

Sarah M. Dillon, Kingsborough Community College
"Early Renaissance Glass Reliquaries"

This paper questions the concept of minor art in two ways. Firstly, it questions the status of reliquaries as minor art forms. As containers for relics, reliquaries were some of the most treasured items of the medieval and Renaissance eras because they served as devotional portals through which one could access the divine. Secondly, this paper explores reliquaries that incorporated glass, a medium typically associated with decorative arts or other marginal art forms.

This paper offers some potential reasons why glass, particularly gilded glass, was used to adorn some of the church’s most revered possessions. The Latin West expanded its glass production over the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries due to the influence of glassmakers and techniques from Islamic territories. As glass became more widely available, the number of reliquaries featuring glass increased. Through an examination of gilded glass’s earlier precedents, its rich symbolism, and the stunning visual effects produced by it, this paper demonstrates how glass could have elegantly resonated with the concept of the threshold of the divine.

Back to Conference

Officers & Contacts