Object Studies in Art History

Object Studies in Art History

In the field of art history, recent developments have shown how far horizons can broaden when the focus shifts to objects that lie outside the traditional concept of art as defined in European modernity. If art history limits itself to visual studies, however, it drastically reduces its area of expertise, excluding from its scope entire categories of objects that are not images. European decorative arts spring to mind, but a wide variety of non-European artifacts, often originating in precolonial cultures, would also be disregarded. They should, on the contrary, have a decisive role in the field of art history, which is international in nature and transcends boundaries between disciplines. Visual studies would benefit from being flanked by object studies, not to create opposition between the two areas, but rather so that they might enrich one another, not least because the complex relationship between images and objects is a central issue in our discipline.

Research on this topic is being led at DFK Paris by Philippe Cordez. Applications for grants and requests to join research projects are welcome for all periods and regions of study. As introduction:

Ph. Cordez, Romana Kaske, Julia Saviello, and Susanne Thüringen. “The Properties of Objects: Walt Disney’s Fantasia,” in id. (eds.), Object Fantasies: Experience & Creation, Munich: De Gruyter, 2018, pp. 7−17.

Ph. Cordez, “Object Studies in Art History: Research Perspectives,” ibid., pp. 19−30.

Conference L'histoire de l'art et les objets, DFK Paris, 30-31 May 2018


Current projects:

– Ph. Cordez and Julia Saviello, eds. Fünfzig Objekte in Buchform. Vom Reliquiar zur Laptoptasche, Emsdetten: Imorde, in print.

Book-shaped objects can take on a wide range of functions: clock, drinking vessel, close stool, camera obscura, firearm, cookie tin, penny bank and so on. This work reveals, for the first time, their remarkable formal inventiveness and the quality of their designs. The fifty objects selected for study all present undeniably book-related features but push them to ever-new frontiers by simultaneously incorporating them into other types of objects. This little-known − although not rare − art of combining objects experiments with how objects are used, playing with senses, meanings, and perceptions. In this case, it also affords surprising glimpses into the cultural history of the book frome the late Middle Ages to the present day.

– Beaucamp, Ella, Philippe Cordez, and Romedio Schmitz-Esser, eds. Typical Venice? Venetian Commodities, 13th-16th Centuries. What are “Venetian” commodities? More than any other medieval or early modern city, Venice lived off the trade of portable goods. In addition to trading foreign imports, the city also engaged in intense local production, manufacturing high quality glass, crystal, cloth, metal, enamel, leather, and ceramic objects, characterized by their exceedingly rich forms and complex production processes. Today, these objects are scattered in collections throughout the world, but little remains in Venice itself. In individual instances, it is often difficult to tell whether the objects in question were actually made in Venice or if they originated in Byzantine, Islamic, or other European contexts. This collective book will focus on the question of how Venice designed and exported its own identity through all kinds of its goods.

– Ph. Cordez and Evelin Wetter, Die Krone Hildegards von Bingen. Monograph on Hildegarde de Bingen’s crown, recently identified at the Abegg Foundation (Riggisberg, Switzerland), in preparation.

See already Ph. Cordez “Hildegard von Bingen: Das Haar und der Schmuck der Nonnen (um 1150),” in Romana Sammern and Julia Saviello (eds.), Schönheit – Der Körper als Kunstprodukt. Kommentierte Quellentexte von Cicero bis Goya, Berlin: Reimer, pp. 79−91.

– Ph. Cordez, Treasure, Memory, Wonder: Church Objects in the Middle Ages (trans. of Trésor, mémoire, merveilles. Les objets des églises au Moyen Âge, Paris: Éditions de l'EHESS, 2016), in preparation.

Object Studies in Art History, a book series edited by Ph. Cordez and published by De Gruyter. Published or forthcoming:

Vol. 1: Ph. Cordez, Romana Kaske, Julia Saviello, and Susanne Thürigen (eds.), Object Fantasies: Experience & Creation, Munich: De Gruyter, 2018.

Vol. 2: Romana Kaske and Julia Saviello (eds.), Objekte des Krieges: Präsenz & Representation, in preparation.

Vol. 3: Gianenrico Bernasconi, and Susanne Thürigen (eds.), Material Histories of Time: Objects & Practices, in preparation.

Photo: Cigarette lighter, France, circa 1916, brass. 5.5 × 4.3 × 1.5 cm. Private collection © Nicolai Kästner


Dr. Philippe Cordez

Dr. Philippe Cordez

Deputy Director
Phone +33 (0)1 42 60 60 73
Briquet, Frankreich, um 1916. Messing, Kupfer. 5,5 × 4,3 × 1,5 cm. Privatsammlung, © Nicolai Kästner