CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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COLLINS, Jeffrey
From Ditch to Nitch: Putting the Muses on Display

Session 17 Display

Abstract

My paper investigates the history of the cultural politics of display by studying one of Europe’s first custom-designed museum installations, the Hall of the Muses created at the Vatican palace in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. As part of a papallysponsored museum devoted to pagan antiquity and intended primarily for public viewing, the room showcased a newly discovered ancient statue group then considered artistic masterpieces. By tracing the campaign from the initial excavation in 1774 through the completion of the room’s decorative program in the late 1780s, the paper suggests that each successive operation, from the restoration of the damaged fragmentsthrough the creation of a historically and symbolically evocative installation, was intended to enhance the objects’ capacity to engage viewers in an immersive aesthetic experienceresonant with other aspects of elite culture. That the resulting display was itself displayed in a range of official or officially approved propaganda indicatesthe campaign’s importance to the papacy’s desired image as a progressive and enlightened government. At the same time, a review of the display in use suggests that the art museum was never merely a storehouse but a potent cultural model and a stage for diplomatic interaction.

COLLINS, Jeffrey

Jeffrey Collins is Professor of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century art and culture and former Chair of Academic Programs at Bard Graduate Center, New York City. Educated at Yale University and at Clare College, Cambridge, Collins is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome and a past Getty Scholar. He has received grants and fellowships fromthe Andrew W. Mellon, Fulbright, and Gladys KriebleDelmasFoundations and from the American Philosophical Society. He isthe author of Papacy and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Rome: Pius VI and the Arts (Cambridge, 2004) and a principal contributor to Pedro Friedeberg (Mexico City: Trilce, 2009); History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture 1400-2000 (Yale, 2013); and the multivolume Cultural History of Furniture (Bloomsbury, forthcoming). Other publications include studies on painting, sculpture, architecture, urbanism, book illustration, furniture, and film, with a particularly interest in the history of collecting and display. His most recent essay investigates the collection and display of plaster casts in eighteenth-century Bologna, and his current project traces the intersection of archaeology, antiquarianism, and museology in creating the Vatican museum of ancient sculpture in the 1770s and 80s.