Conflict Objects, Restitution and the Future of Art History

Speaker: JoAnne Mancini - Associate Professor, Maynooth University

Black and white photograph of a church that has been burnt i John D. Cress, Paco Church, Manila, after it was burned, 1899. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

This presentation will consider two episodes in the history of empire, the history of war, and the history of art: the 1762 British campaign against Manila, which was attended by both widespread looting and the seizure of treasure-laden ships as prize; and the 1899 outbreak of the Philippine-American War, which also witnessed looting and well as artistic and architectural destruction on the part of U.S. personnel.

Its aim is three-fold.  First, it will consider the ways in which artistic practices such as looting and destruction were not peripheral to armed conflict, but constitutive of it in these cases.  Second, it will frame these episodes, which are little discussed by either historians or art historians, as bookends to a critical period in the expansion of global empires, the intensification of looting as a tool of imperial warfare in Africa as well as Asia, and the evolution of national and international legal regimes that formalised and encouraged looting and the destruction of cultural property before suddenly prohibiting such practices.  Finally, it will turn to the question of the restitution of cultural patrimony in the present day, arguing that changes in art-historical practice can usefully contribute to the process of restitution by paying more attention to conflict objects and the violent histories that are often masked by traditional scholarship.

J. M. Mancini is Associate Professor in the Department of History, Maynooth University (Ireland).  Her publications include Art and War in the Pacific World: Making, Taking, and Breaking from Anson’s Voyage to the Philippine-American War (California, 2018), Architecture and Armed Conflict, edited with Keith Bresnahan (Routledge, 2015), and Pre-Modernism: Art-World Change and American Culture from the Civil War to the Armory Show (Princeton, 2005), winner of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Charles Eldredge Prize.

Organised by Professor David Peters Corbett (The Courtauld) 

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27 Jan 2020

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Vernon Square, Penton Rise, King’s Cross, London