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側記|2023秋 亞際文化研究演講系列 Inter-Asia Cultural Studies lecture series 2023 Fall 12/11


×側記作者:張協(Sergey Zanchevskiy)/陽明交大亞際學程碩士生

Topic: Visuality and Cultural Identity: Jacobite Cause and Scottishness 
Lecturer: Kang-Yen CHIU, Institute of Visual Studies, NYCU
Topic: A Match Made in Heaven? The Cameo Portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici and  his Family by Giovanni Antonio de’ Rossi and its Pictorial Interpretation
Lecturer: Chia-hua YEH, Institute of Visual Studies, NYCU 

On December 11, 2023, Professor Chiu and Professor Yeh from the Institute of Visual Studies (NYCU) presented their research-in-progress on visual culture.  

Professor Chiu, a specialist in Scottish literature, spoke about his first upcoming research in the field of visual studies, exploring the formation of Scottish identity and nationalism, using artifacts of visual culture, such as paintings, scarfs, cookie boxes, etc., as major objects of study. His major tentative hypothesis is that contemporary Scottish nationalism is tightly bound up with the revitalization of the heritage of Jacobitism.  Therefore, the professor devoted the first half of his lecture to examining the origins of  Jacobitism. The key event leading to this movement was the so-called “Glorious Revolution” (1688- 9), as a result of which a king of England, James II & VII (r. 1685-1688), was abdicated and replaced by his nephew, William III the Orange (r. 1689-1702), and his daughter,  Mary II (r. 1689-1694), who later co-ruled the country. The reason for this was the religious factor: at the time of James's rise to power, most of the country's population was Protestant, while the king himself was a representative of marginal at that time  Catholicism. However, despite the deposition, James II & VII and his descendants,  James Edward Stuart (1688-1766), the Old Pretender, and Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), the Young Pretender, continued their attempts at power. Their supporters became known as “the Jacobites”, from the Latin form of “James” – “Jacobus”. The Jacobites initiated several uprisings, most of which were carried out not only in  England but also in Scotland. This is explained, firstly, by the disagreement of the Scots with acts of union between England and Scotland signed in 1706 and 1707, and their
religious affiliation (most of the Scottish people were Catholics, unlike the English).  Such strong support among the Highlanders (the Scots) for the Jacobite movement led to the fact that after the defeat of the last major uprising in 1746, the symbol of Scottish culture, the tartan, a criss-crossed pattern, was temporarily banned.  Moreover, Professor Chiu argues that connection between Jacobitism and Scottish identity remains relevant to this day. For example, on the box of cookies, “a  product of Scotland”, we can discover a painting depicting Bonnie Prince Charlie’s (the  Young Pretender) farewell to his aide, Flora MacDonald (1720-1795), who helped to organize his escape after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. This painting was created by an Irish painter, George William Joy (1844-1925), who, in fact, advocated the union of the British Isles, so this painting was rather a mockery of the last battle fought on British soil. However, it was this scene that the Walkers company used to represent  Scottish identity. Another relevant example presented by the professor was a portrait of the Bonnie Prince  Charlie created by Allan Ramsay (1713-1784) in 1745, which was made to serve “as the basis for an official royal portrait” when the throne would be recaptured, but the portrait was lost during the uprising. Eventually, the painting was rediscovered in 2013 and received widespread coverage in Scotland just before the independence referendum in 2014.  In the future, the professor plans to continue to study the relationship between Jacobitism  and Scottish nationalism as part of a two-year research project. Professor Yeh, a specialist in art and clothing of early modern Europe, on the other hand, develops a different approach: instead of exploring issues of identity and nationalism through the lens of visual culture like professor Chiu, she focuses on one specific object of visual culture (Cameo with portraits of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Eleonora di Toledo, and their children, or just the Cameo), interpreting each individual element, thus revealing its various aspects, including political ones, i.e., it is an artifact-based approach. Based on a specific material object, she then raises a more general set of questions: How the image conveys the political meaning and how it corresponds with the political meaning. How to read and uncover it?

But what is cameo? Cameo is a type of jewelry (e.g., pendant, ring or badge), featuring a relief, usually raised. The history of this type of object traces back to ancient times, and they were especially popular among the Romans. The purpose of cameo changed throughout time: from deviation to gods to manifestation of wealth and taste; since 14 centaury they mostly became the accessories of royal families. Variety of purposes leads to the variety of images, but “more modern” cameos usually depict portraits of whom they were intended for.

The Cameo studied by Professor Yeh is a cameo made by Giovanni Antonio de’ Rossi (1513-1575) in c. 1558-1562. What strikes us the most is the size of the cameo: it is 18.8 by 17 cm, in contrast to the usual size of cameos, is around 2-4 cm in height. Besides, there are a limited number of recordings of this unique cameo; what we do have is the drawing of the cameo attributed to the painter Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) and his description – the study of these works will allow, according to the professor, to deepen our understanding of the cameo, especially to specify its date of production.

The major theoretical framework the professor implements is the concept of “the period eye” developed by Michael Baxandall (1933-2008) in Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style (1972): this approach takes into consideration the fact that artworks were shaped by the cultural, social and perceptual norms of their times, and in order to interpret them, the researcher must acknowledge this context.

In this particular case, the cameo depicts a portrait of a family, which is a result of a political union between two noble houses: the Medici and the Toledo. Keeping in mind the possible political meaning behind the creation of the art object, the professor analyses this cameo part by part: she investigates the connotations of the “tondo” (a round hole in the center) and the clothes and accessories worn by Cosimo I and Eleonora, and considers that the postures and eye contact of the ducal couple suggest a deep connection between them and their roles as guardians of Florence.

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