For the upcoming session of Let’s THINK About History, Floor Koeleman will present her research on Visualising Visions, and the constcamer paintings in particular.
In seventeenth-century Antwerp the peculiar genre of constcamer paintings emerged, also known as ‘Pictures of Collections’. Such paintings depict interiors packed with objects of art, science and nature. This genre has been studied to some extent, but not in an all-encompassing way. Building and analyzing a corpus of all surviving examples could provide insight into the meaning of these pictures. Because of the interdisciplinary character of constcamer paintings (to modern viewers at least), the genre is not easily accessible. In order to identify objects and underlying layers of content, I am cataloguing the paintings digitally. My working hypothesis is that constcamer paintings represent (a desire for) knowledge. In addition to my digital approach, I am studying the history of art, the history of science, and intellectual history. The renaissance and baroque periods are known for the flourishing appreciation of ‘the Ancients’. Trying to get a grip on this intellectual climate can help to explain the context in which this type of painting could arise. Taking a closer look at the origins of the genre actually takes us back to the quadrivium, or the subjects that were taught at medieval universities. Contemporary treatises indicate that cabinets of curiosities and by extension depictions of collections, in a sense precursors of modern museums, could have functioned as mnemonic devices. Indirectly, philosophical and alchemical knowledge are strongly represented in the works of art. Looking not only at what is depicted, but also interpreting the subtle references recorded in constcamer paintings, will lead to a better understanding of these intriguing images and their place in history.