Treasures of the Sea: Art Before Craft?” is the title of the themed volume for the fifth issue of the journal that has recently entered a New Era. It will be guest-edited by Avinoam Shalem, Professor of the Arts of Islam at the Columbia University of New York, who has proposed the following thematic framework for this special issue:
Questions about identities of patrons and artisans, including even the role of artifacts in supporting and reinforcing such identities—in short, the politics of visual cultures—seem to have dominated scholarly investigations in the field of art history. “Art comes before gold and gems, the author before everything,” claims a twelfth century inscription on a shrine commissioned by Henri of Blois and manufactured by a Mosan goldsmith; “The workmanship surpassed the material,” declared Abbot Suger famously in his ‘De Administratione’—both clearly suggesting a medieval hierarchy for the state of materials vis-à-vis craftsmanship. “Treasures of the Sea: Art Before Craft,” aims at reconsidering and perhaps even challenging this presupposition by focusing on the exploitation of the varied treasures of the sea, their artistic use and reuse, in the medieval and early modern eras (between circa 300-1400) in both the Christian and Muslim worlds.
The sea, like an embryo or a foetus, seems to represent “a sort of first stage in the advancement of superior life forms.” Its fluid character suggests an early age of our world’s foundation, before fluid turns to stone. It appears as an archaic cosmos into which one descends in order to find hidden treasures in its depths. How did artisans work, shape, and integrate the varied materials of the sea into an artistic oeuvre? Which meanings were attached to these materials? When, how and why were the materials’ fluid origin remembered?
This volume will consider original papers that address the subject: “Treasures of the Sea: Art Before Craft?” We welcome contributions that investigate artistic engagement with the varied materials of the sea. These include precious materials like pearls; coral; amber; tortoiseshell; mother of pearl; crocodile skin; narwhal, walrus and fish teeth; ambergris; etc. Other contributions that concern medieval depictions of mythical sea creatures or discussing medieval stories about legendary sunken treasures will be welcomed too.
Contributions can focus on a particular example or discuss a group of objects. They should engage in rethinking ‘Art before Craft?’ and the artistic strategies of the cultivation of these materials.