Absence is not a natural starting point for art history. The methods of the discipline trend towards what we can see and touch, what is present. They exist, it often seems, to account for what has survived rather than what has not. But the absent object poses its own set of questions to the practice of art history, questions that reorient the viewer’s attention to the fact of its disappearance, rather than its appearance, and the gap it leaves behind, rather than the space that it occupies.
Loss to the art-historical record can occur in many ways: natural disaster, theft and looting, simple neglect. There is no subfield in the history of art whose topography has not been shaped by one or a combination of such events. Even though loss continues to influence the grounding conditions and enabling operations of art history, it remains distinctively under-theorized. In centering itself on what has long been considered an epistemological endpoint in art historical studies – the disappearance of the original object – our research reveals how much we take for granted in terms of the object’s presence, permanence, and accessibility.
What are the stakes of absence and reclamation, both historically and historiographically? How should art historians deal with missing evidence, and how does its resurfacing or remaking change the stories we tell about objects? Whose loss is worth talking about and why? The Lise Meitner Group’s research seeks to answer some of these questions to better understand how loss shapes not just what we have but also what we do not, as well as how we see it.
Rossella Monopoli, M.A., Among the Cracks, beyond the Biases. Investigating Art Patronage in L’Aquila and its Contado: 1461–1529
Francesca Borgo, Ph.D., The Fragile Image