History of Art 290: rock, PAPER, scissors: early modern works on paper

Instructor: Todd Olson

Paper is a surface subject to inscription by direct manual intervention (pen, brush, pencil) or indirect technological processes (woodcut, engraving, etching). From fig tree bark to papyrus and from skin (parchment) to rag (emulsified cloth), paper supported or absorbed viscous pigments. Paper assumed the shape of codices, scrolls, broadsides, paperolles, and loose-leaf folios. Paper facilitated a wide range of viewing and somatic practices. Paper was subject to folding as well as cutting and collage in devotional objects and domestic chapbooks. Paper’s proliferate mobility facilitated imperial archival accumulation and cultural transfer on a global scale, from Antwerp to Mughal India and from Spain to colonial Peru. Paper’s itinerate fragility also subjected it to unmotivated transformations, such as the destructive oxidation of European paper by the scribal ink of the inquisitorial censor in colonial Mexico. Indeed, inscription was vulnerable to accident and chance. Many of the seminar’s objects and readings will be drawn from early modern studies. However, participants may cast a larger historical net, alerting us to useful readings and developing individual research projects. The seminar will involve visits to Bay Area collections including the Achenbach Foundation (Legion of Honor Museum), BAMPFA, Bancroft Library, and the Crocker Museum.