Artisans of the Surface in Early Modern Europe, 1450-1750

Event Date: 
20 Sep 2018 to 21 Sep 2018

King’s College London


Programme can be downloaded below.


The two-day workshop is organised as part of the Renaissance Skin project ( Follow us @RenSkinKCL and use #surfaceartisans


The surfaces of natural things invite observation, manipulation, measurement, and reconfiguration, with the promise to unveil the knowledge of depths. In early modern Europe, artisans of all kind used their hands to work on, and with, the surfaces of human and non-human matter. They captured the attention of everyday and learned contemporary commentators, but traditionally, historians have failed to consider them when establishing the ways in which knowledge was produced in that period. But in recent decades, historians have placed new emphasis on artisanal knowledge procedures and on what has been termed ‘vernacular science’. Today, the Scientific Revolution is characterised by an exchange between humanist erudition and a passion for practice, or between ‘high’ and ‘low’ arts. Much work has been done to show how in the seventeenth century the so-called ‘mixed mathematics’ (military sciences, engineering, navigation sciences, etc.) contributed to the development of the fields of mathematics, astronomy, and geometry. Equally, alchemical procedures and metallurgy informed the theories of contemporary canonical heroes.


In the same spirit, this workshop focuses on the practices of artisans such as tailors, barbers, cooks, cheesemakers, gardeners, and agronomists, and on their relationships with the fields of meteorology, botany, natural history, medicine, earth sciences, and veterinary medicine. All these artisans and artisanal practices shared a set of skills on how to observe and manipulate human and non-human surfaces – from skin to bark, from rinds to animal flesh, from the surface of a landscape to dyes, or from cloth to hair. We are interested in exploring how, and if, practical knowledge about the surface of things and bodies (and their storage and preservation in relation to specific environmental conditions) led to the concept of nature and matter as composed of layers, and how such a framework contributed to the demise of traditional Galenic and Aristotelian views on nature. 


This workshop also aims at moving beyond the dichotomies between quantitative and qualitative knowledge and between natural philosophy and the arts, and so we intend to broaden the focus to include a set of artisans who have traditionally remained invisible from accounts of this ‘age of the new’. We will explore the many different ways in which ‘modern science’ emerged, the relationships between social and cognitive practices, and the contribution that non-mathematical sciences gave to the mental habits of observing, collecting, experimenting with, and manipulating natural matter.


Thursday 20 September

2.00pm Welcome and introductions

2.30pm Marta Ajmar, V&A Research Institute (VARI)

‘Like the skin follows the limbs’: multilayered ceramics between geology, anatomy and natural philosophy in Renaissance Italy

3.00pm Carla Benzan, McGill University

Avian surfaces and artisanal knowledge in Spanish Milan

3.30pm Coffee break

4.00pm Maria Conforti, La Sapienza Università di Roma

Under the surface of the earth: metals, antiquities and knowledge of the body in 17th-century Naples

4.30pm Jason Nguyen, University of Southern California

Monuments, quarries, and stone surfaces

5.00pm Drinks and discussion

5.30pm Day 1 ends

Friday 21 September

10.00am Elaine Leong, MPIWG, Berlin

Attending to the surface: recipes, material and techniques in the early modern household

10.30am Jennifer Park, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Artisans of the skin and the preservative arts: candying, cosmetics, and embalming in early modern England

11.00am Coffee break

11.30pm Carolin Schmitz, European University Institute

Skilled over licensed? Medicinal knowledge and performances of unlicensed skin-and-bone artisans in early modern Spain

12.00pm Brad Bouley, UC Santa Barbara

Making sausage: butchers, regulation, and occasional cannibalism in early modern Italy

12.30pm Closing discussion

1.00pm Lunch

2.00pm Workshop ends 





Submission date for papers: 
08 Jun 2018
PDF icon Call for Papers595.59 KB
PDF icon Programme298.47 KB