Session at College Art Association Annual Meeting, New York City, February 13 - 16, 2019

Co-Chairs: Kee Il Choi Jr. (Leiden University) & Sonia Coman (Freer|Sackler, Smithsonian Institution)

The entry on ‘anonymous’ in the Encyclopédie begins by defining the term, etymologically, as that which has no name or whose name is not known. This definition alone highlights the semantic richness of the anonymous as ontological and epistemological category. In the early modern period, the notion of anonymity co-existed and overlapped with those of pseudonymy and of sociopolitical and/ or sociocultural visibility or lack thereof. Issues of intentionality and authenticity further complicated the early modern understandings of the anonymous and its constellation of norms and practices.

The eighteenth century saw a creative tension between conservative self-effacement and an emerging authorial ambition, manifested in literature, the visual arts, and specific forms of cultural entrepreneurship such as the activities of artists’ workshops and of marchands-merciers. If we are to look at eighteenth-century visual and material culture broadly, we will quickly realize the extent to which anonymous artifacts, loosely defined, make up the fabric of it. And yet, art history privileges (re)known artists and works, relegating the un-named and those who had fallen into anonymity, as it were, to the periphery of research and intellectual inquiry. When we walk through our museums, we become aware that onymous artists and artifacts drive featured narratives, while the majority of things we see on display are, in fact, anonymous. Against this backdrop, and given the resurgence of interest in material culture and the “decorative arts,” the eighteenth-century category of the anonymous warrants a fresh look.

The current panel invites papers that explore anonymity in the arts in the eighteenth century. We welcome submissions that focus on any region and medium, and particularly look forward to papers that display attention to methodology and the materiality of the works in question.

Possible topics to investigate include, but are not limited to:

  • Anonymous makers of the architectural and material fabric of eighteenth-century social spaces
  • Hierarchies of connoisseurship and of medium and genre: signed vs. unsigned art in the eighteenth century 
  • Artists’ career narratives in the eighteenth century: causes and effects of falling into anonymity
  • The ethics of eighteenth-century anonymity (e.g. anonymous cultural production in the context of the ethical code of the honnête homme)
  • Anonymity, clandestinity, and political resistance in eighteenth-century arts
  • Methodological challenges and approaches to studying anonymous eighteenth-century artifacts

Those interested are invited to submit proposals including title, abstract (250 words maximum), and a brief CV (2 pages maximum) to [email protected] & [email protected]