FRAL - Appel Franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales

Material as an actor in transcultural networks between France and Germany in the late Middle Ages and the Early Modern era – Materi-A-Net

Submission summary

The project investigates the agency of artistic materials as a factor in cross-border Franco-German cultural networks. Specifically, this study focusses on the example of the exchange of the raw material alabaster and of alabaster artworks between France and Germany around ca. 1350-1650, i.e. during the period of the greatest popularity of this material. Unlike previous art historical approaches, which have primarily taken into account the human actors (artists, patrons, rarely other intermediaries, e.g. dealers) of the art transfer, this study examines the natural conditions of this process: the deposits of the stone, its properties, and the natural determinants of material procurement (extraction and transport possibilities). Thus, following the concepts of Actor Network Theory (ANT), the project aims to reconstruct the networks of human and non-human actors behind the mobility of alabaster using digital tools, and to draw conclusions about the circumstances of their origin. In doing so, it enquires, whether certain systemic structures that lead to the creation of a work of art are cross-epochal.
This question is examined in two case studies:
1) Localization of the workshop of the so-called Master of the Rimini Altarpiece (15th century). This study aims to better delimit the disputed origin of this important early 15th century alabaster sculptor by inventorying and mapping his works and the distribution of the material he used. Complemented by the study of possible transport routes, hypotheses regarding the artist's place of activity will be verified with the help of digital visualization methods.
2) Inter-court exchange in the Hesse-Lorraine-Franconia triangle in the 16th-17th centuries This case study examines the role of alabaster (as raw material and artwork) as an actor in inter-court relations between France and Germany using the example of selected courts that had alabaster deposits and commissioned alabaster works (Ducal Lorraine Court in Nancy, Landgravial Court in Kassel and Darmstadt, Prince-Bishop's Court in Würzburg). The focus is on the role of the itinerant artists working there as mediators of material knowledge and actors of inter-court communication.
In the project, the methods of art history (analysis of artworks and sources), geology (localization of the deposit), geochemistry (determination of the origin of the material samples) and restoration science (interpretation of work traces, experimental reconstruction) are combined and analysed transdisciplinarily by the approach of the Digital Humanities (structuring of the data from the above-mentioned fields of investigation in a graph database; mapping of the actors; hypothetical reasoning based on the visualization).

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


LMU Institut für Kunstgeschichte Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität

Help of the ANR 647,303 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2022 - 36 Months

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