Ephemerality and Durability in Early-Modern Visual and Material Culture

24 May 2013 - 25 May 2013

SG1, Alison Richard Building and Graham Storey Room, Trinity Hall

Colloquia at CRASSH, University of Cambridge (24-25 May 2013) and the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute, Huntington Library, San Marino, California (27-28 September 2013).

Programme Director

Dr Alexander Marr

Conference Summary

Studies in the visual and material culture of the early modern world have recently focused on the concrete materiality or ‘thingness’ of things.  But why is it that certain early modern things endured while others did not?  Was it because of the intrinsic properties of their materials or other reasons: use and abuse, cultural or religious value, chance or neglect?  How should we study those artefacts that have not survived, or which have endured in an imperfect state: the broken, incomplete, cast off and lost things of the early modern world?

This pair of colloquia will examine the fragility and robustness of early modern objects, exploring not only the matter of their material, but also the transitory or forgotten ways in which they were experienced and used. Reflecting on the sensory and temporal dimensions of artefacts, we will consider the effects upon them of memory, habit, and custom, exploring themes such as impermanence, decay, repair, and recycling. While seeking to recapture the early modern contexts that determined ephemerality and durability, we will ponder also the unspoken gaps in museums, libraries and archives, and how these themes shape current scholarship.

The colloquia will be an opportunity for graduate students and early career researchers to present work-in-progress and to discuss their research with established local and international scholars. Confirmed participants in the Cambridge colloquium include:

  • Professor Peter Stallybrass (UPenn)
  • Professor Christine Göttler (Bern)
  • Dr Niall Atkinson (Chicago)
  • Dr Marta Ajmar (V&A)
  • Professor Jacob Soll (USC)
  • Dr Jessica Keating (USC)

Programme and Registration

Please click on the links at the right hand side of the page to view the programme and to register your place online. The standard fee for two days is £40 with a reduced fee of £20 for students. This includes lunches and refreshments.


The colloquia have been organised under the aegis of the CRASSH-EMSI collaborative programme Seeing Things: Early Modern Visual and Material Culture.  Seeing Things is generously supported by CRASSH, EMSI, the Dean Joan Schaeffer Fund of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, the Huntington Library, and a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant. 

Accommodation for non-paper giving delegates

We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms

University of Cambridge accommodation webpage

NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.


Administrative assistance: Michelle Maciejewska



Friday 24 May

SG1,Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road



Coffee and Registration



Dr Alexander Marr (University of Cambridge)


Session 1

From Feathers to Stone to Skin: Ephemeral Materiality and the Case of Central Mexican Featherwork
Brendan McMahon (University of Southern California)

Respondent: Natalie Lawrence (University of Cambridge)

Chair: Professor Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge)


Session 2

The Ephemeral Golden Age: Fernando de la Torre Farfán’s Ode to the Seville School
Ellen Dooley
(University of Southern California)

Respondent:Dr José Ramón Marcaida (University of Cambridge)

Chair: Professor Jacob Soll (University of Southern California)


Coffee Break


Session 3

Landscapes of War and Empire: The Case of William Wolfgang Römer
Nicholas Gliserman (University of Southern California)

Respondent: Katy Barrett (University of Cambridge)

Chair: Dr Richard Serjeantson (University of Cambridge)


Session 4

Collecting the Crusade in Grand Ducal Florence
Sean Nelson (University of Southern California)

Respondent: Raymond Carlson (University of Cambridge)

Chair: Dr Jason Scott Warren (University of Cambridge)




Session 5

Dr Helen Smith (University of York)
Consuming Paper

Professor Jacob Soll (University of Southern California)
Account Books: the Persistence and Evolution of an Image

Chair: Dr Alexander Marr (University of Cambridge)

University Library

(Please note that due to limitations of space this session is for invited participants only) 

Ephemerality and Print

Object sessions in the University Library, led by Dr Ed Potten, Dr Laura Nuvoloni, Harriet Philipps, and Michelle Wallis



SG1, Alison Richard Building

Keynote Lecture

Ephemeral Matter
Professor Peter Stallybrass (University of Pennsylvania)


Drinks reception

Saturday 25 May

Graham Storey Room, Trinity Hall




Dr Alexander Marr (University of Cambridge)

10.00 - 11.15

Session 1

Ephemeral Walls/Durable Memories: Sounding Out Architecture in Early Modern Italy
Dr Niall Atkinson (University of Chicago)

Conspicuously not for Consumption: Schauessen and Early Modern Court Culture
Dr Jessica Keating (University of Southern California)

Chair: Dr Mary Laven (University of Cambridge)



Coffee break


Session 2

Materiality, Ephemerality and Memory: Relics in Early Modern England
Professor Alexandra Walsham (University of Cambridge)

Natures nest of Boxes’: Thinking with Containers in Early Modern England
Dr Lucy Razzall (Cambridge): 

Chair: Dr Melissa Calaresu (University of Cambridge)




Session 3

The Giant of Antwerp: Durability and Materiality in Early Modern Festival Culture
Professor Christine Göttler (University of Bern)

Preservation and Image-making in the Early Modern World.  The Case of the Bird of Paradise
Dr José Ramón Marcaida (University of Cambridge) 

Chair: Dr Elizabeth Upper (University of Cambridge)



Tea Break


Session 4

Material Mimesis: Tracing Long-term Connections in Cross-cultural Renaissance Objects
Dr Marta Ajmar (V&A/RCA) 

Matter in the Material Renaissance
Dr Ulinka Rublack (University of Cambridge)

Chair: Dr Alexander Marr (University of Cambridge)