Ulinka Rublack

Matter and the Material Turn

My work focuses on the Augsburg art agent Philipp Hainhofer (1578 - 1647). Many of his papers are held at Wolfenbüttel, and I am exploring them in relation to the material turn. Discussions of “matter” have become increasingly central to the material turn. The key argument is that the life of finished objects omits the crucial phase of their “becoming”. This is made relevant in several respects: first, the materials from which a thing was made had unique properties. Second, we need to understand how these properties shaped meanings, forms and ideas in dialogue with makers in this process of becoming as much as in the further course of its life or unbecoming. This approach asks about how particular types of matter and their effects were loaded with cultural significance, which tends to be historically contingent, but also interrelated with their material base. It leads to questions about the ways in which such qualities were intrinsic to the ways in which an object turned into an agent in particular social networks likely to value specific material effects as connected to an object´s power and presence. The upshot of such perspectives is easy to follow but profound in implications for new research methods and areas. History was not made by disembodied minds generating abstract ideas, but in dialogue with materials that shaped cultures. An inquiry into were materials came from, how they were used and acquired cultural association typically reveals a surprising amount of material experimentation and nuanced material perception in the global Renaissance and after.