APPROXIMATING EARLY MODERN ART: AN ACCOMMODATION
Margaret Rose Jaster

My interests and experience placed my project during the final weekend of the series. Inspired by the discussions of earlier weekends, my project attempted to complicate the question I ask each semester in my interdisciplinary humanities course: beyond "What early modern people see" I asked "How was the early modern visual experience enhanced or circumscribed by the viewer's other senses?" My interest in the sensory experience of early modern English society had been piqued by Bruce Smith's The Acoustic World of Early Modern England (Chicago 1999) which alerted me to the impossibility of recreating the experience for my students and the seminar participants. So the project became, admittedly, even brazenly, an "approximation"—imitating the Folger itself, I intended to approximate an early modern atmospheric experience. I utilized early modern music, soft lighting and scented candles, shared clothing, and leeks to attempt a sensory encounter with the painting Lord Cobham and His Family (@1550) attributed to the school of the Marquis of Salisbury. I began the activity with an explanation of how this exercise was an attempt to accommodate the needs of a modern audience by approximating the experience of a sitter, or a painter, in England in the mid 1550s. Arguing that sitters would have been subject to the aroma and texture of borrowed apparel, participants had been asked to bring a scarf from home. I then encouraged them to wrap themselves in these garments, and to inhale the scents of their colleagues' clothes which combined the smell of fresh leeks (eaten by most participants) and bergamot candles. I played early modern harp music, for several minutes, then switched to a choral selection "In Praise of Fortuna" from Orff's Carmina Burana. While the use of Carmina Burana may seem manifestly anachronistic, Orff's 1937 cantata derives from thirteenth-century German poems; its appropriation by John Barry in the musical score to the 1968 film The Lion in Winter associates the music with the medieval and early modern eras. Finally, I asked that the participants record their sensory experiences as either sitter or painter.

Although the interior monologue was an optional assignment, most of the seminar members submitted writings. Most wrote from the point of view of the sitter, and volunteers read their monologues aloud, with others attempting to identify the respective sitters. Writers added sensory stimulants: street and garden chatter, voices wafting from other locales in the great house; cooking smells inundating the atmosphere; the oppressive heat in the underventilated room; discomfort from the maintenance of a fixed position, annoyance with the painter and other sitters.

Post-seminar comments indicated that participants found the activity enjoyable and adaptable for their own classrooms.


Parallel Texts: Shakespeare Publishing History
Visual Poetics
Approximating Early Modern Art: An Accommodation
Everyday Shakespeares: Confronting Othello at the Mall
Picturing Desdemona: Verbal Imagery, Iconography, and Screen

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