Philippe Cordez on “Typical Venice? The Art of Commodities, 13th–16th Centuries”

A contribution by

Philippe Cordez
The German Center for Art History – DFK Paris

The idea of studying the Venetian art of commodities came to me in spring 2013, while spending a few days in Venice at the Centro Tedesco di Studi Veneziani – and more specifically, in its library. In thinking about art historical object studies in relation to other social sciences, I had previously realized that commodities were a crucial but, from this vantage point, still understudied topic. Navigating the bookshelves, I tried to ascertain the state of research on the Serenissima and which of my burgeoning questions were yet to be accounted for. With its profusion of high-quality imports and local productions, Venice topped all my expectations. The city proved to be an ideal case study in allowing for observations about how identity and alterity were negotiated on a most material basis in the interconnected histories of Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as about changes in such practices from medieval to early modern times.

The project materialized in discussion with Romedio Schmitz-Esser: with shared enthusiasm, we planned a conference that took place in Venice in March 2016, as a collaboration between the Centro Tedesco di Studi Veneziani, of which he was Director at the time, and the research group “Premodern Objects. An Archaeology of Experience”, which I led at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. Ella Beaucamp’s involvement began at this stage; she later developed her own PhD project on a related topic and became a co-editor of the volume. Working with Romedio and Ella has been a continuous source of pleasure and inspiration.

Medieval and early modern Venetian merchants were particularly successful at trading commodities over long distances. Modern collectors of decorative arts continued this practice, so that the objects in question are today scattered in a vast number of museums, mainly across Europe and America. To study Venetian commodities, with the aim of shedding light on the symbolic and material realities of early mercantile globalization, therefore entails that we make use of the very possibilities that resulted from these long-distance social dynamics, namely by traveling ourselves. With the limits of such a model becoming increasingly evident, and with Venice itself under particular threat from environmental changes, we hope that this book, highlighting some of the historical roots of our world crisis, will help to shape a common future.

About the editors

Ella Beaucamp is a doctoral candidate at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, where she developed her dissertation topic within the research group “Premodern Objects. An Archaeology of Experience”, led by Philippe Cordez. She studies the high medieval stone reliefs of Venetian house facades, relating them to the larger context of Mediterranean trade and artistic production. The Centro Tedesco di Studi Veneziani, the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, and the Max Weber Foundation – German Humanities Institutes Abroad have supported her work. For her master’s thesis she was the recipient of the Heinrich Wölfflin Prize from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.

Philippe Cordez is Deputy Director of the German Center for Art History in Paris. His research and teaching deal with medieval art history and more generally with object studies in art history. This work has been supported by the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, the Universität Hamburg, the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, the Université de Montréal, and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. His book Treasure, Memory, Nature: Church Objects in the Middle Ages, translated from French and awarded the Prize of the German Medievalists’ Society (Mediävistenverband e.V.), is available at Harvey Miller Publishers.

Typical Venice?
The Art of Commodities,13th-16th centuries

Edited by Ella Beaucamp and Philippe Cordez
Publication scheduled for Spring 2021