Written Transmission: Books and Artists’ Recipes

Sven Dupré, Sylvie Neven, Karin Leonhard, Barbara Tramelli, Claudia Swan, Mark Clarke

[Distillation (detail). Stradanus, Nova Reperta, 1584.]

This project studies the role of written transmission and circulation of knowledge in the early modern artist’s workshop and beyond. Knowledge of artist’s materials and their preparation and manipulation was transmitted in collections of recipes. Besides the most famous Il libro dell’arte of Cennino Cennini, almost 500 European manuscripts containing such recipes survive from before c.1550 (approximately 17,000 manuscript pages), of which only a small fraction has been published. A database is being developed which will facilitate access to the recipes and fashion the conceptual tools to answer questions such as: In which ways were recipes used in the context of artists’ workshops, how was their use legitimized and innovative workshop knowledge validated? Which role did the recipes play in the training and education of artists? What is the role of the invention of vocabulary in the translation of workshop practices and practical knowledge in to the verbalized format of artists’ recipes? How were artists’ recipes related to ‘books of secrets’?

Closely connected to the intellectualization of the artist’s profession was the transmission of knowledge through books. Another part of this project looks at artists as readers of increasingly literary texts, the role of this reading in artists’ appropriation of knowledge and the role of bookish knowledge in the production of works of art.

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