Towards Autonomous Design:
The Ornament Print in the Early Modern Art World

Femke Speelberg
Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Femke Speelberg is Assistant Curator of Ornament and Architectural Drawings, Prints and Model books in the Department of Drawings & Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She studied Art History and Art & Visual Culture at the Radboud University Nijmegen (The Netherlands) and completed her studies with a thesis on the origins of the sixteenth-century strapwork ornament at Fontainebleau. Since then, her focus has been on two major themes in art history: artistic exchange and the history of design. In 2009 she collaborated with Peter Führing on a publication about ornament prints in the collection of the Frisian notary Nanne Ottema. After several research positions, she joined the staff of the Metropolitan Museum in 2011 where she recently curated the exhibition, Living in Style. Five Centuries of Interior Design from the Collection of Drawings and Prints (June 18-September 8, 2013). She is currently working on a book about early modern ornament prints and the establishment of the genre in early modern print culture.

Under the somewhat vague descriptor ‘ornament prints’ falls a large group of woodcuts, engravings, and etchings of widely diverse subject matter, connected through their focus on design. In modern times often marginalized as pattern book material, this type of print was in high demand and highly appreciated by its early modern audience. Starting from humble beginnings during the first enterprises in printmaking, by the turn of the fifteenth century ornament prints were beginning to develop into a well-respected artistic medium, catching the attention of many highly acclaimed artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer. Principal in this development was a growing appreciation for ingenuity, variety, and an eye for detail, which sparked the imagination of artists and led to many new inventions. The print medium proved to be a perfect outlet for artists to share these inventions with the world, reaching colleagues, clients, and collectors all over the continent. By the third quarter of the sixteenth century, the ornament print had established itself as an autonomous genre, forming a vital part of many publishers’ output and a legitimate means for artists to make their living. In her talk at the BGC, Speelberg will investigate some of the factors that led to this success and explore the ways in which the genre anchored itself in the early modern print and art community.

 



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