Event: First Technical Art History Colloquium (Utrecht, March 10, 2016)

24 februari 2016

The newly initiated Technical Art History Colloquium is organised by prof. dr. Sven Dupré (Utrecht University and University of Amsterdam, PI ERC ARTECHNE) and dr. Arjan de Koomen (University of Amsterdam, Department of Art History, Coordinator MA Technical Art History). Monthly meetings will take place on Thursdays, alternately in Utrecht and Amsterdam.

In the first edition of the Technical Art History Colloquium, dr. Marieke Hendriksen (Utrecht University) and dr. Marjolijn Bol (University of Amsterdam and Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin) will give presentations about the concept ‘technique’ and the history of art history. The format of the colloquium is open, but there will always be substantial time for audience discussion. All those interested are welcome. For more information, please contact j.briggeman@uu.nl.


  • March 10, 2016 – 15:15 – 17:00
  • Drift 25, Utrecht – Room 002
  • Admission is free


1. Not the Making, but the Perfection: German Philosophies of Art and the Rise of the Term ‘Technique’ in the Eighteenth Century 

by Marieke Hendriksen (Postdoctoral Researcher ERC project ‘ARTECHNE: Technique in the Arts. Concepts, Practices, Expertise (1500-1950)’, Department of History and Art History, Utrecht University).

Why do the terms ‘technique’ and ‘technical’ suddenly appear in European languages after 1750 to describe processes of creating visual art works? Before ca. 1750 ‘art’ appeared to be equivalent to ‘techne’ or ‘technique’, to processes of making and doing. The terms were used interchangeably in Latin, and French and English dictionaries translate them as such. When art was discussed, the focus was on the artist and on what we would now call technique. Yet a new discourse about the perception of beauty developed from the work of German philosophers like Baumgarten, Winckelmann, Lessing and Kant. This increasingly led to visual art being understood as autonomous. My hypothesis is that only then a distinction between fine arts and craft and between the work of art and the underlying techniques became relevant.

2. Technique and the Immortality of Art 

by Marjolijn Bol (Postdoctoral Researcher VENI project ‘Art and Deception: Functions, Techniques and Effects of Material Mimesis’, Conservation & Restoration, Faculty of the Humanities, University of Amsterdam and Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin).

The industrial revolution produced many new materials for the artist, from new synthetic pigments such as Prussian blue, cadmium yellow and emerald green to the invention and patenting of the paint tube in 1840. As many artists embraced these materials produced by science and industry, the period saw the rise of plein-air painting, impressionism, expressionism, and, because of painter’s materials being more readily available, even the rise of amateur painting. Beyond its impact on contemporary art, science also increasingly aided the investigation of the works of the old masters. Surprisingly, this early bond of science with art history – itself a new academic discipline – was not fueled by the progressiveness of science.

Instead, as I hope to show, art history turned towards science to undo the damage that the industrial revolution had caused. Some of the new synthetic pigments, embraced so fervently by many painters, were not as stable as they were made out to be, and, in some cases, industry even contaminated paints with cheap fillers. As artists no longer produced their own supplies, they lost the ability to assess the quality of the materials they were buying. Looking back instead of forward, artists, art history and chemistry formed a bond in an attempt to rediscover the long lost techniques of ‘the old masters’ whose works, as could still be witnessed, were made to last. Almost ironically therefore, the development of perhaps the most physical and material aspect of ‘Geisteswissenschaften’, its union with science to probe into the physical make-up of art objects, came out of a revolt against the same science – against the chemical decay of the new materials produced by chemistry and against the gap between art and industry. This paper investigates how, within this debate, artistic technique became vital to evaluate, resurrect and immortalize art.