Making Sense of…
Making Sense of key concepts of Western Art: ‘Nature’, ‘Life’ and Lifelikeness
Dr Thomas Balfe
Monday 13 – Friday 17 September 2021
This course explores the history, theory, practice and politics of a fundamental principle of Western art: that art should follow nature. Focusing on visual materials produced from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, it examines the rise of nature as a source of authority for artists and observers, and the relationship between the concept of nature and ideas of lifelikeness, ‘truth to life’, the real and the ideal. The first lecture will trace the emergence and development of the concept of nature within Western artistic debates and practices such as life-drawing. Later lectures will look at how depictions of nature played a vital role in the production of knowledge, in the formation of personal and collective (including national) identities, in cultures of collecting, and in European artists’ engagement with non-European peoples and places. The course will include focused discussion of examples drawn from canonical artists and art writers such as Van Eyck, Vasari and Dürer, as well as works by important but lesser-known figures from a variety of national contexts.
Dr Thomas Balfe is an art historian specialising in early modern (c.1550–c.1750) Flemish easel painting and graphic art. His research has focused on seventeenth-century animal, hunting and food still-life imagery. He received his MA (2009) and PhD (2014) from The Courtauld, where he worked as an Associate Lecturer from 2010. More recently he has taught art history for the University of Edinburgh. His co-edited book on the term ad vivum and its relation to images made from or after the life was published in 2019.