The concept of care is central to art history, but it is only rarely discussed. This is a surprising disjunction: many of the objects that form the history of art have survived only because care has been invested in them. Yet we know little of what that care encompassed and the reasons why it was given; of who cared for objects; and of how they did so. In seeking answers to these questions, we shift focus away from restoration and treatment towards a broader set of material and immaterial practices, all aimed at securing and maintaining the well-being of objects – in a word, care. These practices might include acts of physical or symbolic protection and repair; rites of consecration, inauguration, and restitution; as well as what we nowadays describe as preventive conservation, risk management, environment control, and boundary maintenance. Our attention therefore extends to spaces of deposit, storage, and concealment, moving away from those sites of display – the gallery, the cabinet, the studiolo – that have been the focus of much art-historical attention. In examining who gives care, to what, and for what reasons, we also seek to explore the extent to which caring practices are defined in response to the object’s endangerment, especially in times of conquest or conflict.
The Group’s research is directed at understanding not only how care was and is practiced, but also how it has formed – and continues to inform – our knowledge of and access to art. It seeks to contribute to the growing contemporary discourse on the ethics and politics of care by making space for a longer historical analysis of these practices, articulating their differences and exposing where they come into conflict with one another.
Francesca Borgo, Ph.D., Wartime Care
Julia Vázquez, Ph.D.: Marco, Cornice, Cadre: Episodes in the History of European Frame Design (1748–1937)
Annika Svendsen Finne, M.A. Simulation and invention as techniques for fixing paintings in Italy, ca. 1300-1500
Oliver Wunsch, Ph.D. Pastel and the Meaning of Delicacy in Eighteenth-Century France
Renaissance Care: As part of its ongoing work on care and fragility in art history, the Research Group organised two panels on 'Renaissance Care' at the 2023 RSA annual conference. These sessions looked at how people and communities in early modernity cared for objects that mattered to them. See programme