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making art technological sources accessible

Dr Mark Clarke : VLAC Fellow

Mark Clarke has recently been a Fellow of the VLAC - Flemish Academic Centre, the Belgian Institute for Advanced Study in Brussels, hosted by the by the Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België (Royal Flemish Academy), together with Sven Dupré of the University of Ghent, researching the transmission of artists' knowledge c.1430 (January 2011 - January 2012.)


Innovative adaptation by the Vlaamse Primitieven of pre-existing techniques of oil painting, as revealed by artists' recipe manuscripts c.1350-c.1550 :

Artists' recipes for painting materials and prescriptions for modelling techniques survive in a surprisingly large number of manuscripts from before c.1550 (Clarke 2001). Many codify the 'received wisdom' of traditional oil painting techniques that circulated around workshops considerably before the 'Eyckian turning point'. Mark Clarke is using these recipe manuscripts to demonstrate the dialogue between tradition and innovation in the oil painting of the "Flemish Primitives", (both in materials and techniques), to further document his argument that how oil paint was a pre-existing 'sleeper' technology that the van Eycks and their contemporaries incorporated and transformed: and to show how they did not do this by inventing new technical secret recipes, but by moving from prescriptive techniques for depiction towards direct observation of objects and optical phenomena, that is, by skill not by technology. Clarke has demonstrated, for example, that these texts transmitted oil techniques as far as Italy as early as c.1430 (Clarke 2011 forthcoming).

As part of this he is working on the "Montpellier Manuscript", a 14th century painter's manual, and on the "Secretum Philosophorum" of c.1300, which is a text that combines artists' paint recipes with optical tricks involving mirrors: thus uniquely demonstrating that artists definitely had access to texts on optics.


[mark@clericus.org] [clericus home page]
Last updated 12 February 2012       Mark Clarke       http://www.clericus.org/VLAC.htm