In an era before art and science had moved into wholly separate domains, the imagination, skill and visual intelligence of artists played a vital role in attempts to understand and represent the world as a living entity.
The essay collection celebrated at this event addresses the important issue of how artists and images contributed to the production and communication of such knowledge in early modern Europe. Before the advent of modern science and photography, how was a sense of the ‘presence’ of or ‘contact’ with a subject or object visually transmitted over space and time? This book critically engages with the opposition between ‘realist’ and ‘idealist’ modes of depiction that became entrenched in modern academic art writing. It does so by focusing on the Latin term ad vivum (to, from or after [the] life) and its equivalents in other languages, which were applied from the thirteenth century to images regarded as faithful likenesses or bearers of reliable data. These included botanical, zoological, medical and topographical depictions, and life casts made from natural objects. Ad vivum and the associated vocabularies of lifelikeness analysed in the book raise fundamental questions about the kinds of information that were thought important and dependably transmissible via images, and about the roles of the artist in that transmission.
The launch will include an introduction by the two main editors, Thomas Balfe and Joanna Woodall, as well as presentations by several of the other authors addressing how their work on ad vivum connects with their broader research agenda.
The event will be of interest to historians of art and science, especially those studying art writing, the visualisation of knowledge, the word-image connection, early modern realism, theories and technologies of replication, and the role of prints and contact images in the production of knowledge.
Joanna Woodall is a member of the faculty at The Courtauld. Her longstanding interest in portraiture has led her to explore broader issues of realism, including the significance of the copy, translation and the relationship between realism and desire.
Thomas Balfe is an art historian based at the University of Edinburgh whose research focuses on animal, hunting, fable, food and human-animal inversion imagery.