In the past ten years, the term “heritage” in African art studies has gone from being a cliché used only by cultural bureaucrats to a burgeoning academic growth industry, brought into being by studies of collective memory or national trauma in relation to both historical and invented pasts. In this lecture, Sidney Kasfir, Professor Emerita at Emory University, asserts that one of the important ways heritage is given substance as an idea is through memorialization, both through public monuments and smaller-scale artworks. In Buganda, a long-embattled African kingdom, these works of art and architecture give substance to memories of greatness, on the one hand, and victimhood, suffering, and loss, on the other.
Late medieval and Renaissance painters in northern Europe took pride in characterizing the forms of attention specific to the votive encounter. Amidst the hubbub of the Crucifixion, certain witnesses to the event are shown poised between acceptance and rejection of the dying man as the Christ of prophecy. These figures allowed beholders to measure their own response to Jesus’s paradoxical identity along a spectrum between seeing and blindness, between discipleship and reprobacy. Captured in the dawning of their comprehension, such characters embodied that passage from ignorance to knowledge that Aristotle, in The Poetics, called “recognition” (anagnôrisis). In this lecture, Mitchell Merback, Associate Professor of Art History at Johns Hopkins University, argues that to speak of a Christian poetics of disclosure in early modern art requires first understanding how recognition was elevated to a grand theme—and a galvanizing meta-theme—in the brilliantly naturalistic art produced north of the Alps.
This lecture is part of a series on art history cosponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study and the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University.