Bard Graduate Center Logo Why Come to Hear Timothy McCall?

Timothy McCall will give a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Wednesday, January 23, at 12:15 pm. His talk is entitled “Woad War I: Dyes, Mordants, and Social Conflict in Renaissance Italy.”

The Duke of Ferrara Ercole d’Este seethed when he was unable to maintain his predecessor’s lucrative privileges over the trade in woad, used in expensive blue and black dyes, and the lord’s high-stakes blustering over these plants saliently confirms the vital importance of fashion’s raw materials. This talk thus explores the myriad, dynamic, and interdependent links between the materiality of clothing and the representation and operations of aristocratic power. Not only woad, but other colorants including the familiar cochineal, and also logwood (from Campeche, providing avidly sought-after lustrous blacks) will be critically surveyed, as will the essential mordant alum. The ruthlessly savage siege and sack of Volterra, orchestrated by Lorenzo de’ Medici and executed by Federico da Montefeltro in 1472, was motivated by Medici desire to monopolize the supply of alum, which held fast the luminous crimsons reserved for nobles and their adherents in Renaissance Italy. If Volterra’s mines yielded only low grade alum and were soon abandoned, the message for historians is nevertheless clear: fashion and its materials were worth the price of violence, death, and destruction. The fabrication and display of aristocratic clothing generated social conflict and facilitated the brutal consequences of oligarchic rule. They continue to mask these effects for historians today. Splendor seduced subjects then; it seduces us now. The procurement, manufacture, and display of fashion’s materiality will be front and center, though not at the expense of the craftspeople who worked it or the popolo dominated by those it adorned. Insisting on the importance of the raw stuff of fashion, this talk seeks to critically interpret the materialities of Renaissance array.

Timothy McCall is Associate Professor of Art History, and director of the Art History Program, in the History Department at Villanova University. His research centers on Italian Renaissance art, and on visual intersections of power and gender (particularly masculinity) more broadly, in addition to histories of fashion and material culture. He was in 2010–11 fellow at Villa I Tatti, and his research has been supported by the Folger Library, the Penn Humanities of Forum, and the Delmas Foundation. McCall was recently a fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (in the Department of European Painting) and next summer will be an International Fellow at the University of Sydney’s Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre. His peer reviewed journal articles have or will appear in Studies in Iconography, I Tatti Studies, Renaissance Quarterly, and Renaissance Studies, and together with Sean Roberts and Giancarlo Fiorenza, he co-edited Visual Cultures of Secrecy in Early Modern Europe (2013). McCall’s state of the field essay on “fashion” was recently published in Renaissance Quarterly, as was a survey of material culture and materiality studies—“Object Lessons and Raw Materials—in the Routledge History of the Renaissance. His forthcoming book, Brilliant Bodies, investigates the clothing, adornment, and bodies of men in fifteenth-century Italian courts, and he is currently co-editing, with Catherine Kovesi, a six-volume series on the Cultural History of Luxury, for Bloomsbury Publishing. Other forthcoming projects include a book on Lordly Sexuality and Masculinity in Renaissance Italy, and a study of the materiality of Renaissance fashion, to which today’s talk relates.

This talk will take place in the Seminar Room at 38 West 86th Street and is open to the BGC community and invited guests. Please RSVP to