Forgery, Replica, Fiction

Temporalities of German Renaissance Art

Christopher S. Wood

 Forgery, Replica, Fiction
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Christopher S. Wood

416 pages | 116 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2008
Cloth $55.00 ISBN: 9780226905976 Published August 2008
Today we often identify artifacts with the period when they were made. In more traditional cultures, however, such objects as pictures, effigies, and buildings were valued not as much for their chronological age as for their perceived links to the remote origins of religions, nations, monasteries, and families. As a result, Christopher Wood argues, premodern Germans tended not to distinguish between older buildings and their newer replacements, or between ancient icons and more recent forgeries.
             But Wood shows that over the course of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, emerging replication technologies—such as woodcut, copper engraving, and movable type—altered the relationship between artifacts and time.  Mechanization highlighted the artifice, materials, and individual authorship necessary to create an object, calling into question the replica’s ability to represent a history that was not its own. Meanwhile, print catalyzed the new discipline of archaeological scholarship, which began to draw sharp distinctions between true and false claims about the past. Ultimately, as forged replicas lost their value as historical evidence, they found a new identity as the intentionally fictional image-making we have come to understand as art.

“A remarkably rich, learned, and ingeniously argued history of error, falsehood, referential confusion, forgery, and fraud in an age before fictionality. I am utterly taken aback by both the ambition of this book and the analytical brilliance Christopher Wood displays throughout in pursuing his argument and its truly far-reaching implications.”—Mitchell Merback, author of The Thief, the Cross, and the Wheel


“This is a remarkable book that challenges received ideas of the birth of aesthetics and proposes an alternative theory of its own. Christopher Wood demonstrates that German artists of the Renaissance still subscribed to an idea of the image as invested with life and power that had little to do with the way in which we conceive of aesthetics today. He argues that the status of images was not transformed through a vague process of secularization, but that it was the birth of the printing press, the invention of the woodcut, and mechanical reproduction generally, that broke the substitutability of one image for another, thus breaking the magical charm that had once held them together. His book is illustrated with a mass of new information about the historical attitudes of German scholars and artists during this period, affording us insight into the unique and peculiar ways in which they related to the monuments of the past.”—Keith Moxey, author of Peasants, Warriors, and Wives

"This is a dense, challenging text that rewards the reader with both detail and new directions for research. It offers the opportunity to rethink fundamental shifts between medieval and modern modes of thought in the German-speaking world."

"Wood's grasp of a pre-modern typological understanding and his recognition of a referential reading of objects is an important insight and one which will be undoubtedly influential for future scholarship. . . . The range of material on which Wood draws is extraordinary, as is the command of his sources and the rigour and originality of his thinking. All make for consistently fascinating reading. Wood's style combines sections of strenuous abstract theorizing with vivid narrative and descriptive exposition buoyed up by a dramatic sense of the epic in the play of historical forces . . . all too appropriate in a scholar who has brought to light the reflexive qualities of Renaissance artists. The book will become essential reading for anyone working in the field."

"Packed with visual, as well as countless epigraphic and textual examples, Wood's book rewards the intrepid reader of its over four hundred pages with a new paradigm for understanding what happened in Germany in the sixteenth century. . . . Incredibly nuanced and thought-provoking, Wood's book realigns the field and opens up new issues for Renaissance studies."

"In Wood's brilliant book, originality and mechanical production remain decisive factors of the transformation from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, yet his explication of substitutional chains reconfigures the entire discipline of Renaissance studies. Wood's scintillating book will inspire anyone interested in the meaning of time and truth in history."—Bonnie Noble, Renaissance Quarterly

"Wood's study ranges widely over sculpture, architecture, prints, paintings, and various other forms of visual expression, both documentary and aesthetic. His erudition is extraordinary, as is his command of language. . . . Wood's selections of examples often act as springboards for consideration of larger categories of images and artifacts, giving his text application well beyond its focus on a particular place and period."—Susan Donahue Kuretsky, CAA Reviews

""This sophisticated, fascinating book deals with the emergence of art as a new fictional construct in 16th-century Germany. . . . An important contribution to early mdoern scholarship and a powerful conceptual revision of current theories dealing with art's emergence."


1. Credulity     
Druid portraits - How to relax the paradox - Strange temporalities of the artifact

2. Reference by Artifact           
Relics of earliest Europe - Creative archeology - Replica chains - Reference by typology - Resemblance as an emergent property - Relics dependent on labels - Onomastic magic

3. Germany and “Renaissance”
Destructive intimacy with the distant past  - No German “Middle Ages” - Modernity as disenchantment - A different way to describe modernization - The German career of the heathen forms - Disruption of the substitutional chain by print

4. Forgery       
The fabrication of facts - Document forgery as paradigm - Retrospective tombs - The translation of St. Simpertus - Likeness without reference - Some misidentified portraits - The true image of the emperor - The iterable profile - The colossus of Crete - Mirabilium - The quest for the bones of Siegfried

5. Replica        
Recovery of the round arch - The return of Romanesque, in two dimensions - Alphabetic archeology - Early experiments in epigraphic perfection - Career of the Trajanic majuscule in Germany - Publication of icons and relics - Maximilian amplified - Replication of irregular information - Scholarly ambivalence about print - Urban archeology

6. Fiction         
Learned credulity - Quasi-antiquities - Fictional architecture - Hypertrophy of alphabetic choice - Ethnologies of form - Convergences on the epigraphic ideal - Unreadable alphabets - Banishment, temporal and spatial, of the nude - The tomb of the poet - The tomb of the emperor - “Colossal puppets” - The tremor of forgery - Fiction and  counterfiction

7. Re-enactment          
Virtual pilgrimage - Devotion folded over on itself - Paradoxes of the signature - Pressures on the referential model - Art and prophecy - The future of credulity

Figure Credits  
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