MUSTS Colloquium with Sven Dupré: Failure and the Imperfections of Artisanal Knowledge in the Early Modern Period

Wednesday, June 7 2017, 15:30-17:00, in the Attic (Grote Gracht 80-82, Maastricht)

In the early modern period it was a topos that the apprentice could only learn a craft by making mistakes. “Even if I used a thousand reams of paper to write down all the accidents that have happened to me in learning this art,” the French potter Bernard Palissy famously wrote, “you must be assured that, however good a brain you may have, you will still make a thousand mistakes, which cannot be learned from writings, and even if you had them in writing you wouldn’t believe them until practice has given you a thousand afflictions.” This paper explores artisanal textual practices as strategies to deal with the uncertainty of artisanal processes and the whims of materials. Confronted with the precarious nature of artisanal knowledge, variation had always been the most important strategy of error management. However, in connection with the dissatisfaction with ways of writing down knowledge hiding the imperfection of the process of knowledge production, also expressed in the work of learned knowledge producers around 1600, the codification of error emerged as a new strategy in artisanal writings.

Sven Dupré is Professor and Chair of History of Art, Science and Technology at Utrecht University, and Professor of History of Art, Science and Technology at the University of Amsterdam. He is the Scientific Director of the project ‘Technique in the Arts: Concepts, Practices, Expertise, 1500-1950’, supported by a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant.  Previously he was Professor of History of Knowledge at the Freie Universität and Director of the Research Group ‘Art and Knowledge in Premodern Europe’ at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. In Spring 2015 he was Robert H. Smith Scholar in Residence for Renaissance Sculpture in Context at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. His research has been supported by visiting fellowships at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) of the University of Cambridge, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and at the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science at the University of Sydney.