Talk – ‘Classical Specimens & Fragmentary Histories: The Specimen Table as Part & Whole’, ASECS 2020

I’m over the moon to be heading to my very first ASECS next year to speak on the topic of ‘Classical Specimens & Fragmentary Histories: The Specimen Table as Part & Whole’, as part of the panel Collecting, Antiquities, and Eighteenth-Century Art. You can read my abstract below.


Classical Specimens & Fragmentary Histories: The Specimen Table as Part & Whole

This paper explores the production, purchase, and display of specimen tables in and between continental Europe and Britain in the long eighteenth century. So-named after the variety of specimens of which they were comprised—including pieces of marble (both newly-sourced and procured from ancient ruins or monuments), semi-precious hardstones, and minerals of all kinds—specimen table tops were a typical ‘Grand Tour’ souvenir, representing a crucial intersection between classical antiquity, contemporaneous Continental industry, and eighteenth-century collecting. Moving beyond narratives of antiquarian acquisition and contemplation, this paper seeks to place such objects within some broader discursive frameworks, highlighting the importance of considering the specimen table as simultaneously fragment and whole. Firstly, the paper will analyse such tables as part of a wider interest in the fragment that arose during this period. In so doing, it seeks to place the tables in relation to a wide array of classical and historical objects encountered on the Tour, from morsels of classical ruins and geological specimens found whilst travelling, to the mosaics and precious stones that decorated the surfaces of many of the historical sites that Tourists would visit. Secondarily, the paper also seeks to examine the conceptual potential of the collaged and combined nature of the specimen table, presenting this as a site of both physical and semantic transformation: wherein raw stone and mineral were reconstituted as the cultural; and in which the classical past was linked with an eighteenth-century present. As such, this paper will explore how the specimen table’s own interconnected form is echoed by its multitudinous relationships to other cultural modes, historical moments, and the personal narratives of its collectors.

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