Plunder: An Alternative History of Art

Mary-Ann Middelkoop, University of Oxford,

Elsje van Kessel, University of St Andrews,

‘I place looting at the heart of the modern formation of what is called art, analyzing how it was obscured and transformed into the history of collecting.’ This session proposes to take up the challenge presented by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, examining the history of plunder and loot as an alternative history of art. From the triumphant parade of sacred objects from the Temple in Jerusalem through the streets of Rome, to the stolen treasures from Egypt, Italy and elsewhere that were put in a new museum in Paris by Napoleon Bonaparte, art objects have been seized and taken back home as trophies of war, spoil and loot. Over time, these illicit transfers of artistic ‘treasures’ and their display, have been captured, imagined, and re-interpreted by contemporary artists, whose works continue to question and tell stories of triumph and loss. This session invites papers that critically engage with the relationship between art history and the history of plunder. What instances, beyond the canonical cases, can be identified? How has looting been represented visually? How have histories of loss and possession forged an understanding of objects as art? What are the roles of resistance and restitution? The session aims to combine case studies of plunder with more theoretical reflections, in order to open up a fundamental debate about the role of looting in our discipline and the global history of art.

Information about the speakers and papers on this panel will be posted shortly. 



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