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, forthcoming

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.

See already Ph. Cordez, Nicht wählen! Objekte und die Kunst der Kombination, in: Weltweit vor Ort. Das Magazin der Max-Weber-Stiftung, 01/2019, pp. 810.


– Ella Beaucamp and Philippe Cordez, eds. Typical Venice? Venetian Commodities, 13th–16th Centuries, London / Turnhout: Harvey Miller Publishers, forthcoming

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 der Hildegard von Bingen Riggisberg: Abegg-Stiftung, forthcoming

Monograph on Hildegard of Bingen’s crown, recently identified at the Abegg Foundation (Riggisberg, Switzerland). 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, Nature: Church Objects in the Middle Ages, London / Turnhout: Harvey Miller Publishers, forthcoming

Trans. of Trésor, mémoire, merveilles. Les objets des églises au Moyen Âge, Paris: Éditions de l'EHESS, 2016.


– Ph. Cordez and Ivan Foletti, eds., Objects Beyond the Senses = Convivium. Exchanges and Interactions in the Arts of Medieval Europe, Byzantium, and the Mediterreanean, VIII/1, 2021, forthcoming (CFP

The central question of this thematic issue is whether and how objects are present, perceptible, and conceivable not only within, but also beyond the senses. This question addresses – in medieval experiences and representations – the imperfections of human perception, and the ordinary struggle to make sense of the realities of the world. Medieval women and men, it can be argued, developed a specific virtuosity in experiencing and shaping a world defined by the limits of the perceptible. Art history, it must be added, also deals with such limits in its endeavor to make sense of the realities of the past.


– Object Studies in Art History, a book series edited by Ph. Cordez and published by De Gruyter (Munich)

1: Object Fantasies: Experience & Creation, Ph. Cordez, Romana Kaske, Julia Saviello, and Susanne Thürigen, 2018.

2: Objekte des Krieges: Präsenz & Representation, ed. by Romana Kaske and Julia Saviello, 2019.

3: Material Histories of Time: Objects & Practices, ed. by Gianenrico Bernasconi and Susanne Thürigen, in preparation.

4: Löwe, Wolf und Greif. Monumentale Tierbronzen im Mittelalter, ed. by Jan Keupp and Joanna Olchawa, in preparation.

5: Objekte & Organismen. Verlebendigung, Verdinglichung, Verwandlung, ed. by Ella Beaucamp, Romana Kaske, and Thomas Moser, in preparation.


The Ivory Combs (5th–13th Centuries)

Approximately 100 ivory combs, mainly Western but also Byzantine and Islamic, have survived from the 5th to 13th centuries and will be for the first time comprehensively documented and published. The majority come from churches in Latin Christendom, while around 40 of them were considered as former possessions of historical persons. These narratives too will be systematically studied in the Corpuswerk, in connection with the moral interpretation of the combs and their use as insignia of power and as paraliturgical instruments. The volume will continue the series Die Elfenbeinskulpturen of the Deutsches Verein für Kunstwissenschaft.


Photo: Book-shaped 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