Visual Genres (seminar)

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This was a fall 2000 semester seminar.

The early modern period originated and then refined the kinds of familiar pictures that are still read from their subject matter as instances of categories, or genres: landscapes, still-lifes, and scenes of peasant life, to name only the most important. This seminar revisited the messy and mutable history of pictorial genres by examining their origins and developments against the culture and society of the Low Countries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It payed particular attention to the role of innovation in the work of seminal artists like Pieter Bruegel and Johannes Vermeer and the role of imitation in the market context of art consumption. It studied the patterns and effects of wide distribution of generic paintings and engraved prints to a broad clientele. It explored the hybrid nature of early pictorial genres, which frequently combine religious subjects with dominant rural landscapes or villages or blend sacred and secular figures in urban markets. The seminar also engaged comparative situations: from the development in the same period of literary genres (derived and coordinated with elaborate, classical theories of poetics) to the eighteenth-century novel and, especially, the twentieth-century film. Literary historians were encouraged to bring in their own case studies from the same period (especially such fruitful points of overlap as pastoral), as well as period understandings of dominant generic affects (especially comedy).

Director: Larry Silver is the Farquhar Professor of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the coauthor, with Timothy Riggs, of Graven Images: The Rise of Professional Printmakers in Antwerp and Haarlem, 1540–1640 (1993), as well as the author of the introductory Art in History (1993), and Rembrandt (1992).