In recent years, the material turn has led to stimulating new questions, new research areas and new research perspectives in numerous humanities and social science disciplines. The often quoted “thinking through things” is essential, especially in the area of the history of collections and museums. Nevertheless, it is astounding that numerous research themes have hardly been worked on despite the immanent connection of objects to the discipline of art history, for example, in comparison to archaeology and cultural anthropology – although such research themes form a major area of the pre-modern self-conception of the artist. Speaking of those objects of material culture representing the civic associations in crafts and business the conference seeks to make visible the system of guilds and brotherhoods in a townscape. All those objects making up this area of study play the major role here. At this conference, the term material culture of the guild and crafts system is to be understood in its broadest possible dimensions, from multi-panel altar to the simple guild cabinet storing the candles for the civic processions. Of interest are the form, effect and function of these objects in their sacred and profane surroundings.

The most important players are primarily the civic guilds. In like manner, the guild-like brotherhoods play a role, associations which looked after the social and religious matters of their guilds. In addition, the official representatives of the town could have an influence on the design of their town hall or townscape to bring the social structure of their confraternity into focus. When did it come to competing projects among the different crafts groups? To what extent was individual space guaranteed for persons to found donations? The visual artist or even the architect played a major role in the public portrayal of the guilds, but also of individual persons, and generally in the design of public space. He was the one who designed and carried out the paintings, flags, glass windows, manuscripts etc. according to the guidelines of the patrons. The artist’s craftsmanship lent glory to the guilds; his visual offerings translated the group’s will to self-portrayal into concrete visual messages. Who was responsible for the decoration of the guild rooms? Which artists were called on for these commissions, and how did they deal with each task?

The spaces where the group activities were played out could be of different kinds. The civic space formed the stage, so to speak, where the crafts associations acted on stage and where their realia were put on display. It could have been a centrally located square, the town hall, the church with various guild chapels or even the individual guild house. Along with these locatable spaces, the most diversified temporary spaces formed a major area as well: whether communal festive parades, church processions, festive ruler entrances or funeral ceremonies, the groups had to be visible as representatives of their rank. Realia such as guild candles, crafts-specific coats of arms and standards with guild motifs played an important role. The succession in which the respective group participated in a procession could also signify the status of the guild in the civic context. These were transitory processes which could be preserved in written or visual form. The guild chapels served as publically accessible areas where the confraternity could create its public image according to its own ideas.

In addition to the different players and spaces, the conference is to work out the extent to which the specific object was put to use in the pre-modern era to display splendour, to secure power but also to transfer knowledge and the extent to which the object, often robbed completely of its context, can serve today to understand the guild and crafts system. This interdisciplinary conference wishes to integrate the visual and tactile dimensions of the object, as well as the questions on this topic dealing with the history of science and technology.

Among the possible conference group of themes are, for example:

  • Crafts, brotherhood and guild houses in town centres (location, architectural forms, furnishings). 
  • Town halls and guild house furnishings (for example, reception pieces, gifts by individual artists).
  • Sacred spaces in church naves (guild altars / furnishings, brotherhood chapels etc.).
  • Stained-glass window cycles for civic crafts groups
  • Guilds and religious orientation 
  • Civic processions / temporary art
  • The artist as a member of a religious brotherhood
  • The artist in communal organisations 
  • Artists’ celebrations in the pre-modern era
  • The artist‘s funeral within the guild
  • Names and designations of brotherhoods
  • Competitions
  • Guild saints and religious veneration
  • Theories on material culture and material turn 
  • Topography of material culture of the guild system (inventories, clap boards, guild chests, welcome pitchers)
  • History of collecting the objects
  • Questions in the history of science and technology in the inner- as well as intra-disciplinary context (for example, guild research in the 19th/20th century; material culture studies and concepts and terms in Germany compared to those in other parts of Europe and in the US)

CONFERENCE CONDITIONS: The organiser will pay for transport and accommodations for the speakers. More detailed information will be announced following the selection of the speakers and the arrangement of the programme.

PARTICIPATION REQUIREMENTS: A publication of the conference proceedings is planned for shortly after the conference ends. For this reason, the selected speakers are expected to have a text with footnotes, bibliography and images already prepared for publication at the time of the conference. Following the conference only a few alterations can be made to the text before the manuscript goes into print at Imhof Verlag Petersberg in the summer of 2016. Revised texts with printable images must therefore be available for the organisers at the latest on 31 March.

SUBMITTING ABSTRACTS: The talks should be 30 minutes long. We request that abstracts, no longer than one page, plus a brief CV with the most important publications be submitted to: guilds[at]

ORGANISATION TEAM1: Prof. Dr. Dr. Andreas Tacke / Prof. Dr. Dagmar Eichberger / Dr. Birgit Ulrike Münch

  • 1. The conference is organised by the ERC Project artifex ( We were able to secure the Central Institute for Art History in Munich as the ideal conference location. It is, after all, the seat of “Forschungsstelle Realienkunde”, which is devoted expressly to material culture in its manifold dimensions.