Thursday Seminar: Silver, salt, and the sea: Peter Paul Rubens and the global world of early seventeenth-century Antwerp


Thursday, November 14, 2019, 6:00pm to 7:30pm


Gould Hall, I Tatti
Peter Paul Rubens

Speaker: Christine Göttler (I Tatti / Universität Bern)Despite the rich literature on Peter Paul Rubens there are still very few studies that address the ways in which his works engaged with his chosen home city’s global world. Using as a central example a saltcellar created around 1628 by the Antwerp silversmith Jan Herck and the Augsburg ivory sculptor Georg Petel after a design by Rubens, this paper aims to bring together the histories and imaginaries of American silver and both Portuguese and Caribbean salts. Since the sixteenth century, Antwerp had been a major market for silver, initially imported from the mines in Central Europe, and then, from the mid-sixteenth century onwards, from the mines in the Spanish Americas. For its part, salt, praised for its preserving and replenishing properties, was, around 1600, both an indispensable commodity for seafaring nations and, together with mercury, an important tool for the extraction of silver in the New World. In which ways does Rubens’s salt cellar comment on and pay homage to the ‘charismatic’ substance it contained? And how did Rubens, in this and other works, reference the seemingly inexhaustible sources of silver in the New World? As a whole the paper argues for an art history that is attentive to the ways in which an expanding world changed, transformed, and redefined the values and properties of (precious) materials and enhanced the awareness of different processes of making.

Christine Göttler is Professor emerita of Art History at the Universität Bern. Her current research interests concern the interactions between various arts (including the so-called alchemical arts), the art of early modern Antwerp in its global context, and the visual and spatial imagery of interiority and the imagination. She is the author of Last Things: Art and the Religious Imagination in the Age of Reform (2010). Among her recent publications related to the topic of her project are: Knowledge and Discernment in the Early Modern Arts, ed. with Sven Dupré (2017); and The Nomadic Object: The Challenge of World for Early Modern Art, ed. with Mia M. Mochizuki (2017).