On the Inception of Auricular Ornament: Metamorphic Bodies and the Fleshy Frame: an abstract by Dr Allison Stielau

by The Frame Blog

A Stielau image Auricular Style frames sm

Theodorus van Kessel, title page of vol. 2 of Modelli artificiosi di vasi diversi d’argento (Christiaen van Vianen1646–1652, Utrecht), etching, 258 mm x 196 mm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The opening presentation of the Conference will give an overview of the Auricular style as it developed and was received in 17th century European centres. Particular attention will be paid to the precious metalwork produced by the Van Vianen family of silversmiths. The geographic reach of the Van Vianens spanned from Prague, where Paulus worked at the court of Rudolf II, to Utrecht, where Adam was based, to London, where Christiaen ran a prosperous workshop. Between 1646 and 1652 Christiaen van Vianen published designs in the Auricular style based on the work of his father and uncle. This series of prints disseminated further afield the ornamental mode that had made the Van Vianens famous. It occasions a consideration of the ornament print both in the development of auricular motifs in the late sixteenth century and in their dispersal in subsequent decades. The relay between printed design and architecture, painting, carving, metalwork, and other media — how artists and craftsmen drew from and imagined beyond circulating ‘models’ and, in turn, saw their contributions inspire new prints — conditioned the spread of lobate ornament.

In its second part, the presentation will turn to the historiography of the Auricular style, focusing particularly on the terminology (Dutch kwabstijl, German Ohrmuschelstil, etc.) applied to it over time. One thread running through discussion of Auricular ornament has been the desire to link it causally to 17th century anatomical research, particularly dissection. While there is little evidence to support this claim, it is undeniable that Auricular frames share with contemporary anatomical illustration an aesthetic of rippling fleshiness. This theme will be explored in Paulus van Vianen’s Rijksmuseum Diana & Actaeon basin and in several anatomical frontispieces. The basin’s Auricular frame provided a sophisticated commentary on Ovid’s story of bodily mortification by way of its distinctly corporeal orifices. The false etymology of Auricular ornament in the scene of dissection is thus not without insight into the appeal lobate forms held for 17th century beholders.


Allison Stielau is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Early Modern Conversions Project at McGill University. Her focus of study is early modern object cultures in northern Europe, c. 1400–1700. She was a fellow at the Getty Research Institute in 2014–2015 (for the annual theme ‘Object, Value, Canon’) and received her PhD in the History of Art from Yale University in December 2015. Her dissertation, The Unmaking of Metalwork in Early Modern Europe: Events of Liquidation, 1527–1636, concerns the transformation of precious metalwork in contexts of confessional change, war, and fiscal crisis. Allison has published articles on leather étuis, 15th century engravings of metalwork, and weight as a category of historical and art historical evidence. Her current work extends the interests of her dissertation to other realms of metallic transformation, from the representation of Ovidian metamorphosis on 17th century silver vessels, to the conversion of coins into printed illustrations.

Conference programme: here             Conference registration: here