Distinguished WAI Lecture on Renaissance Art and Culture

The Animation of Statues: How to Understand the Attribution of Emotions and Life to Art Works?
Professor Caroline van Eck, Department of History of Art, University of Cambridge, U.K.

Friday, 27 October 2023, 7.30-9 pm, UTC+8 Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, via Zoom
[12.30 to 2.30 pm UTC+1, London; 1.30 to 3.30 pm, UTC+2, Berlin; 7.30 to 9.30 am, UTC-4, New York, Washington D.C.]


Giovanni Bellini’s Pietà from the Brera Gallery in Milan, 1465-70, tempera on panel, 86 x 107 cm. Image: Public Domain

Dr. van Eck will present different perspectives on a very widespread but little-understood phenomenon: that of viewers treating artworks as if they are living beings. Such reactions have been condemned as idolatry, primitivism or even hysteria, but the universal and very persistent character of such responses asks for a less normative and narrowly Western approach. Concentrating on the Laocoon group, Giovanni Bellini’s Brera Pietà and Gianlorenzo Bernini’s Medusa, I will argue for an anthropological approach that draws on Alfred Gell’s theory of art as agency, as well as on classical rhetoric and early modern memory theories.


Moderator: Wang Lianming, City University of Hong Kong
Discussant: Uwe Fleckner, University of Hamburg/Advanced School for Art and Humanities, China Academy of Art
Q&A translation: Zhao Zifeng, University of Cambridge


Individuals residing outside mainland China are cordially invited to register for virtual participation in the lecture series: https://forms.gle/LAj5SkGCuy7Pgu1x9 Registered attendees will receive timely email notifications containing Zoom links before each scheduled event. See more details: https://arthist.net/archive/39988

2023-24 Distinguished WAI Lecture Series on Renaissance Art and Culture: Established in 2020, the World Art History Institute (WAI) at Shanghai International Studies University has firmly established itself as a leading research institution closely affiliated with the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA). Its primary mission is to promote World Art Studies in China and foster collaboration within the global network of art history institutions, museums, archives, and libraries. In commemoration of its founding, WAI Shanghai will inaugurate the Distinguished WAI Lecture Series in September 2023. The annual program for the 2023-24 academic year will focus on Renaissance art and culture, featuring twelve world-leading scholars who have made significant contributions to various fields of Renaissance studies. These contributions will be presented through a variety of academic activities, including public lectures, roundtable discussions, collaborative workshops, book launch events, translation initiatives, and publication projects. The lecture series will take place in multiple Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shenyang.


Monumental mistakes? The Statue and Its Discontents

Lecture and panel discussion with Jeanette Kohl and Malcolm Baker, Universität Hamburg, June 8, 2023.

HIAS Monumental MistakesFor those concerned with the history of sculpture Robert Musil’s remark that “There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument” has, alas, always rung very true.

But suddenly over the past three years, everyone is talking about statues. Except they are not. Instead, they are talking about the subjects these statues represent and the culpability of these historical figures for involvement in the slave trade and other crimes of various colonial pasts.

But in this talk four art historians will focus on an aspect of the current debate about statues that has received much less attention.  This is the question about how statues work as representations and the roles played by the conventions and visual rhetoric they employ. How might the terms of the debate shift if more attention was paid to the aesthetics of the statue? Is there an opportunity to think about the aesthetics and politics of the monument together?


  • Malcolm Baker, Art Historian, University of California, Riverside
  • Frank Fehrenbach, Art Historian, Universität Hamburg
  • Jeanette Kohl, Art Historian, University of California, Riverside
  • Iris Wenderholm, Art Historian, Universität Hamburg

Universität Hamburg
Lecture Hall H, Main Building
Edmund-Siemers-Allee 1



It is our great pleasure to share that PhD candidate, Molly Bond, will present on her research at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022 at 5:30 am PDT (2:30 pm GMT+2)
In person at the Palazzo Grifoni (Florence) and online

Meeting-ID: 954 7537 4245

Spaces of Relief Sculpture: Embodied Spectatorship and the Late Cinquecento “Recanati School”

Recanto School, Molly Bond TalkIn 1564 Florentine monk and intellectual Vincenzo Borghini deemed basso rilievo the ‘dolce amaro’ of the arts: ‘sweet’ because sculptors might approach the capacity of painting to depict elements of an istoria, but also ‘bitter’ because relief could neither render a convincing painterly illusion of depth nor offer the multiple views of sculpture in the round.  Borghini’s opinion of relief as a kind of ‘imperfect hybrid’ (Ostrow 2004, 336) is far from unique: indeed, such ambivalence typifies most writings on relief—themselves very few and far between—from the early modern period.  Yet, as uneasy as art theoreticians were with this art form, relief permeated the built environment and daily lives of contemporary Italians, as it invested objects ranging from monumental architectural façades to miniature plaquettes.  A partial and ‘imperfect’ amalgamation of painting and sculpture perhaps, but such in-betweenness allowed reliefs to use the means of both in order to engage viewers across an incredibly broad array of socio-spatial contexts.  Foregrounding the idea of embodied spectatorship, my presentation will examine both textual accounts and artifacts that respond to particular aspects of such interaction, including that of a spectator’s mobility, tactile engagement, and the changeable environments that conditioned their encounters with relief sculpture.  While similar, phenomenologically-oriented approaches have been fruitfully applied to the study of Renaissance sculpture in the round and even painting, these concerns remain underexplored with respect to relief sculpture.  Here the production of the late 16th-century ‘Recanati School’ of bronze casters will form my primary case study: not only did these artists develop an unusually strong tradition of bronze relief, but their work spanned a wide variety of different socio-religious spaces—from doors, to chapel walls, to statue bases—in and around the Basilica della Santa Casa di Loreto.