While obviously a dissertation publication with mediocre production values of fuzzy, small black-and-white images under discussion, this nevertheless is an impressive work of synthesis, offering a major topic from a mature scholarly perspective. Ganz, a student of Viktor Stoichita, provides an overview of a series of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Sammelbilder. These composite images present a dense roster of related items across a composition that for the most part lacks hierarchical arrangment. Of course, among the best known of these works are the gallery pictures of the final section: ensembles representing paintings amassed by a real or imagined collector; these works have been well discussed by Stoichita himself (1998), following landmark studies by Speth-Holterhoff, Filipczak, and Honig.
But it is the singular contribution of Ganz to associate such obvious objects of study with other works of related structure from the last period of a united Netherlands. Her opening chapter, somewhat surprisingly, examines the invention period of group portraits, both the more familiar (and often-studied) doelen portraits of militia companies as well as pioneering anatomy lessons. She then goes on to analyze Pieter Bruegel’s “encyclopedic” paintings of Netherlandish proverbs and (again surprisingly) The Triumph of Death– but not Children’s Games or Carnival and Lent. Part II of this study deals with epistemology of imagery of animals (Roelant Savery, Jan Brueghel) and plants in both paintings and prints as well as market scenes; finally, Part III revisits gallery pictures to examine their reflexivity.
These images’ chief commonality – and the real object of study – is their Sammelbild structure, which consists of a paratactic arrangement of parts where no hierarchy or subordination prevails, posing the issue of classification or order as a puzzle for the observer before the component parts. Indeed, the paradigm of the entire construction is the painted bouquet, comprised of cut flowers arranged in a cluster. Unsurprisingly, Ganz relates this family of images to their moment in time: the era of the first great collections of images and objects, the period in which the term “curiosity” acquired its modern, positive meaning rather than its medieval cloud of suspicion. Ganz has done good research into the recent publications on curiosity (Barbara Benedict, 2001, chief among them), in English as well as German, and she also notes much important recent work on the origins of modern descriptive science in relation to her phenomenon (esp. Findlen; Daston and Park). Interested students will want to note one major recent publication that appeared too late for inclusion but also offers an anthology of recent work and references: R.J.W. Evans and Alexander Marr, Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (Ashgate, 2006; the introduction by Marr is especially valuable).
From this basic insight of historical coincidence emerge Ganz’s basic arguments. For her the anatomical group portraits offer an appropriate subject as much for their proto-scientific purposes as their structural arrangements of what Riegl characterized as “coordination” of composition. The militia companies provide a transition from such lingering medieval groups as Scorel’s Jerusalem Pilgrims into a more secular grouping, but still these subjects seem to be a latent concern rather than the pictorial structure itself, even as a dialectic between individual/group or paradigm/syntagm is laid out within the analysis. Ganz claims that such pictures generate a bifurcated vision between pluralities and overall narratives. For the bodies she adopts the standard claim that they form a microcosm of the universe, a text unto themselves, but this argument remains undeveloped, so the overall significance of group portraits seems linked as much to their chronological priority as their forms. While it is important to note this structural similarity among the other pictorial types of the study and it is gratifying to see sixteenth-century examples studied not just as forerunners of Hals or Rembrandt, Ganz’s opening gambit remains more suggestive than fully analyzed.
To include Bruegel’s works around 1560 seems truly apposite: here both form and content coincide neatly, for the gatherings of proverbial sayings and folk behavior also formed the subject of scholarly studies, as Meadow and others have established. Ganz points to the verbal twin emphases on copia and varietas also favored by contemporary humanist authors (cf. Cave, 1997), just as Bruegel scholars have done. How relevant those strategies are to Bruegel’s Triumph of Death is debatable (though one could align this picture with Ariés’s chapter on humanism and death), but Ganz makes us see it freshly for its application of varied death iconography to the Sammelbild structure, as she claims that decoding the references would have provided the puzzle for viewers. The other, “open” images accord better with contemporary compendia, corresponding to modern encyclopedias. She clearly agrees with Meadow in seeing no overriding message or coherence behind the Proverbs collection, despite juxtaposing related neighboring imagery that challenges the viewer.
Chapter 3 on naturalism focuses on Hoefnagel and della Porta and the fusion of Kunst with Wunder, whereas Chapter 4 emphasizes the importance of wonder and of the marvelous, with economic consequences of rarity in exceptional items, exemplified in the expensive flower still lifes (or tulipmania). Connoisseurship and curiosity converge in the “cabinets of curiosity” as well as the painted galleries of the final section. Market and kitchen scenes also form part of this section, yet despite their material abundance and double process of viewing – objects and theme (often in “inverted” biblical background) – their relationship to “curiosity” and collections remains underdeveloped except for arrangement by elements, seasons, or other structured series. Is economic availability – and consumer desire – related to curiosity, in markets or in gallery pictures, as already suggested by Honig (1998)? Is that curiosity still to be taken in a lingering medieval sense, as the interpretations of Aertsen by Emmens et al. would suggest?
This perceptive book remains a bit slim to explore its own arguments fully. Yet it provides a suggestive linkage between curiosity as a value, prompting nascent observational natural philosophy, which culminates in modern science, and new image types of amassed plenitude and focused detail. How much such curiosity links to consumerism and to corporate identity in the Northern Netherlands still calls for further cultural analysis.
University of Pennsylvania