Sabine du Crest

Sabine du Crest

Berenson Fellow
"Border Objects" : the Florentine Case Study
2016 - 2017 (January-June)


Sabine du Crest is maître de conférences at the Université Bordeaux Montaigne, has been visiting professor at Roma La Sapienza, and curated the exhibition Si loin si proche. Objets d’ailleurs dans les intérieurs européens. Photographies 1870-2015 (Rome, Gangemi, 2015). Her research focuses on a new approach to the exotic in Early Modern Italian and French art. She launched the Exogenesis program (2013-2016), supported by the Agence nationale de la Recherche; this highlights “border objects”, i.e.  artifacts made in Europe since the Renaissance that include extra-European components. These objects are understood as linking the near and far, the cognitive and sensory.

Project Summary

In Renaissance Italy, objects were designed that embedded various layers of contacts between Europe and extra-European worlds. At the methodological crossroads of objects biography, material culture and transculturality, this survey will investigate so called «border objects» in the Medici collections, artifacts made in Europe with natural or artificial objects coming from antipodes like mounted shells or Chinese porcelain. The nautilus of the South Pacific Seas mounted by European silversmiths in the late Sixteenth century can be considered as paradigmatic border objects because they tell the story of Europe's encounters with remote worlds.

Because of multiple links with India, the Americas and Africa, Florentine holdings, among the richest in such objects, allow to establish a paradigmatic corpus of border objects still in situ and test case studies, from the today's showcases of museums up to the nucleus of the Medici collections.

This project provides an opportunity to better understand the complexity of border objects : how they articulate the relationship between what was perceived as «here» and «elsewhere», as «us» and the «other» like in a face to face meeting ; how they create novelty in local artistic production by using exogenous items ; the relationship they establish between container and contents both within the objects themselves and in their spatial settings ; their «agency» and affordance.

Through these artifacts - such very special and Renaissance things that «talk» - one can discern the central role played by Florence in the context of the «first» globalization.