Summary & questions raised by workshop 3

Joanna Woodall, Courtauld Institute

Making Art in Tudor Britain
Abstracts from Academic Workshops (2007-8)
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

  • The named artists discussed (Holbein, Scrots, Eworth, Mor, Ketel) conformed with Sophie Cassagnes-Brouquet's conclusions about 15th and early 16th century London, that the vast majority of aliens in the metropolis were 'Dutchmen or Germans' - from present day Belgium, the Netherlands and the Rhine region of Germany. More archival research is needed to expand this data through the Tudor period. For the moment we can assume that about 1 in 10 craftsmen was a foreigner, with a greater concentration of foreigners amongst elite artists and craftsmen, working for the court.

  • Sophie Cassagnes-Brouquet's research also indicated that access to technical secrets was an important issue between the aliens and the native craftsmen, with clear evidence of attempts to confine access to guild mysteries to the master's fellow countrymen. The role of the court in the assimilation of different styles and techniques is clearly vital.

  • Susan Foister, besides vividly demonstrating the sophistication, economy and identifiably personal character of Holbein's working practice, emphasised the importance of defining and differentiating the terms 'style' and 'technique'.
    No consensus was reached on these difficult definitions, but a number of papers addressed, in different ways, 'style' and' technique' as

    a) marks of the hand of a named master,
    b) associated with a particular workshop, and/or
    c) identifiable with guild mysteries particular to a region and practiced by any artist trained within that tradition.

  • Lorne Campbell emphasised the role and significance of quality and talent within the complex matrix of style and technique.

  • Underlying a number of the contributions, and a great deal of the discussion, was the issue of the relationship between the research questions posed for the workshop (see www.npg.org.uk/live/makingtudorworkshop3.asp) and the possibility of attribution to individual, named artists. How important, historically, was the identifiable hand of a master in Tudor Britain? Or was it more a matter of quality? Were some images invested with other values? What avenues of enquiry about native and foreign techniques and styles might we pursue that don't depend upon making attributions to named artists?

  • Marika Spring's presentation on the regional distribution of different pigments in16th century European paintings, and the possibility of locating the origin of glass used as a drier, indicates that pictures may be situated geographically, even when their authorship is unknown. This could provide a material basis for research on regional differences in style and technique.

  • This material includes portraits produced 'off the peg', using standard poses and compositional motifs in different combinations (Till-Holger Borchert), and copies and derivations (Catherine Macleod, Tania String). Setting aside the traditional art historical imperatives of high quality and attribution to a named artist revealed the importance of such material to the research questions posed to the workshop.

  • Overall, the workshop revealed a continuing tension within material analysis between

    a) the possibility of enhanced connoisseurship and investigation of the individual creative process in very high quality works. This involves differentiating named artists from one another and from their workshops.
    b) an 'inclusive' understanding of artistic technique and practices, and the meanings and functions of art objects, in works of art ranging from exquisite quality to pedestrian productions. The analytical categories brought to bear here might be geographic, but also sociological (e.g. court, city) etc.

    There is always a danger imbuing the (often seductively beautiful) images produced by material analysis with the authority, objectivity and technical character traditionally attributed to scientific knowledge. Of course, the information and insights yielded by such images are dependent not only upon the interpretative skills exercised, but also the nature of the questions asked, by their human observers.