Conference: Book Ornament and Luxury Critique, Zurich 16.09. – 17.09.2022

The research group “Textures of Sacred Scripture. Materials and Semantics of Sacred Book Ornament” is organizing a two-day international conference on “Book Ornament and Luxury Critique”. The conference, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, will take place at the Institute of Art History at the University of Zurich from 16 to 17 September 2022. Registration is required by 12.09.2022: A Zoom link will be provided for participants who cannot attend in person.

When, how, and under what circumstances might book ornament be understood as offensive, and which strategies were employed to avoid such critique or to create books that are ostentatiously ascetic? Since antiquity, philological correctness was opposed to ornament in the rhetorical discourse, which associated an overtly rich language with overblown luxury and female adornment. Already in Roman literature, this gendered discourse was projected onto the material artifacts of writing, a tradition that influenced the varied discussions about the materiality of sacred books and their status in Christian, Islamic and Jewish book cultures from Late Antiquity until the end of the Middle Ages and beyond. In all three religious traditions, this critical discourse about scriptures, script and ornament established connections “between ornamenting bodies, buildings and language, in which fancy forms are rejected in favor of plain, and embellishment opposed to simplicity in a dialect of truth and falsity” (F. B. Flood, in: Clothing Sacred Scriptures, ed. D. Ganz/B. Schellewald, Berlin/Boston 2019, 52). The conference will explore the entire range of such critique of book ornament in Christian, Islamic and Jewish book cultures, and analyzes their specific contexts and semantics, as well as the spaces of negotiation, in which artists, commissioners and users could react to critical allegations without simply obeying them.

Continue to the program.