Call for Papers

Art Against the Wall

The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Call for Papers Deadline: 15 July 2011

Fireplace with sculpture of birds (swan?)
Anon. Fireplace with sculpture of birds, Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, 19th century.

Conference to take place: Saturday, 19 November 2011

Art Against the Wall is the third symposium of The Courtauld’s Early Modern department. The symposium will provide an occasion for established and emerging scholars to present and discuss their research together.

This one-day symposium will explore the relationship between walls and art in early modern visual culture. During the period 1550-1850 the interplay between work and wall became increasingly complex as art objects began to pull away from the walls which had previously defined them. The enduring association between artistic skill and craft production meant that many art works were often still regarded as elements in overarching decorative schemes; paintings installed in eighteenth-century English domestic interiors, for example, continue to be described as part of the ornamentation, even as the furniture, of a room. Conversely, walls now had the power to redefine art works, giving them a new meaning through a new context; thus, in late sixteenth-century debates on the status of the religious image, walls – which map the division between sacred and secular space – take on crucial importance. Yet the wall could also become art, as the numerous examples of trompe l’oeil wall illustration to be found in seventeenth-century architecture and garden design suggest. Taking as its point of departure Derrida’s insight that there can be no clear separation of ergon (work) from parergon (not-the-work, ‘wall’), the symposium will attempt to investigate the rich questions raised by the phenomenon of art against the wall. We welcome contributions relating to paintings, sculptures, decorative schemes, architecture and works on paper. Topics for discussion may include, but are not limited to:

  • The wall as display space –  the changes in modes of wall display in the early modern period, particularly as they contributed to our current idea of art; conceptual walls as alternative display spaces (e.g. the cabinet); walls as spaces for the re-contextualization of artworks.
  • The wall in representation – the significance of walls depicted in paintings and other media; walls in theatre and civic spectacle; the portrayal of named or historically-specific walls in art and material culture.
  • The wall as a medium for public memory – the role of walls in the expression of national or cultural identity; ‘creative defacement’ of walls (graffiti, despoliation, whitewashing) as a  challenge to established power structures; walls for communication and for spectacle.
  • The wall as substrate – how physical characteristics of the wall-as-substrate (materials, situation, durability) may affect the artwork it supports; challenges posed by wall art for conservation and technical study; intersections with parietal art.
  • The wall as a work of art – creative uses of walls and partitions by architects, gardeners and urban planners; trompe l’oeil and illusionism; walls in the service of interior and exterior decoration

  • The wall and the image in early modern art writing – how walls were conceptualized in treatises on visual art and related fields; the wall in relation to iconoclasm and the polarization of sacred and secular image; walls as interfaces between public and private realms.

Please send proposals of no more than 250 words by 15 July 2011 to and

Organised by Jocelyn Anderson and Thomas Balfe (The Courtauld Institute of Art).