Welcome Greeting at the CIHA Workshop Bologna, January 8-9, 2024

What, Why, How

Welcome Greeting by Prof. Marzia Faietti at CIHA Workshop in Bologna, January 8-9, 2024

What, Why, and How are three of the "Six Honest Serving-Men" described by Rudyard Kipling in the poem I Keep Six Honest Serving-Men, published in Just So Stories in 1902. The British writer claimed to have learned everything he knew from them. Indeed, a scholar friend of mine, a dogged persecutor of cultural bias and misinterpretation, has recently used Kipling's text and his "Six Honest Serving-Men" to show that a famous sixteenth-century document should be read in a radically different, even overturned, way from the current exegesis. The scholar is Salvatore Settis, and the document is the so-called Letter to Leo X on Classical Architecture, written by Raphael with the literary assistance of Baldassarre Castiglione[i]. I do not wish to dwell on the merits of this document, which is as much studied as it is misunderstood with regard to the original intentions of its authors, although its citation in the introduction will eventually allow me to better explain what I consider to be some of the urgencies, from the point of view of content, facing the art historian today. Conversely, I should like to make it clear from the outset that, although I will be using Kipling's poem, I intend to differ from the author in a way that is not merely terminological. In fact, I do not intend to benefit from the help of honest servants, but rather from the suggestions of valuable and incomparable advisers. Moreover, unlike Settis, I did not have to rely on all six of them. In fact, I did not have to tear down a wall of false beliefs but rather try to create, together with Claudia, Marie-Theres, Jean-Marie, and all of you, a new way of communicating with each other on a regular basis, in order to intensify existing collaborations and to forge even more entirely new ones.

On the other hand, as I reflected, I realized that I should not overlook the suggestions of a fourth advisor who could prove particularly useful in this context. Therefore, at the end of my introduction, I will also briefly recall Where.



So I will begin by clarifying what this workshop actually is and what its purpose is, according to the intentions of Claudia, Marie-Theres, Jean-Marie, and myself. To fully illustrate its genesis, I have to go back to the inaugural speech of our joint (Claudia's and mine) term as CIHA President. It was 3 September 2021, we were in the midst of the pandemic era, and so the inaugural address was delivered via Zoom. In the end, I expressed the hope that we would find ourselves in a Mediterranean location, more precisely on the border between two continents: in fact, I was thinking of Sicily, the extreme tip of Italy and very close to Africa, a continent that is actually not represented in CIHA, except for a sporadic presence at our meetings of colleagues from South Africa.

I also thought that it would stimulate a common reflection on a subject like landscape, which has recently experienced a revival of interest since it can be approached from different points of view and can be the starting point for a broad methodological discussion. At the time, I had in mind a scientific conference that would follow an established and usual structure. The novelty would have been to place it in a borderline historical-geographical context that would have enhanced the plurality of possible interpretations of the theme. But things turned out differently: the development of the pandemic continued to prevent travel for some time, thus affecting the cultural exchanges that had been constant in the pre-pandemic era, thanks to the periodic meetings at conferences and colloquia that punctuated the life of the association in the intervals between the four-yearly congresses. I had to give up my idea, although I still believe that I had only "frozen" it for the time being, waiting for a future favourable circumstance to bring it to fruition. However, my wish did not fall on deaf ears, at least in part. Indeed, in May last year, at one of the first conferences I attended, the annual conference of the Swiss Association of Art Historians, in collaboration with the University of Geneva and CIHA, had organized an interesting international conference on the theme of landscape: Imaginaries of the Landscape: Media, Materials, Makers.

Encouraged by the enthusiasm of the Geneva days, which allowed us to meet again in person, I began to think again about the idea of the Conference, for which I had already identified Bologna as a venue, perhaps less fascinating than the original borderland between two continents, but certainly easier from a logistical point of view. I therefore concentrated on the possibility of a new format.

I remember a pleasant conversation in the sunshine with Claudia, Marie-Thérèse, and Jean-Marie in the small square in front of a Geneva café: on that occasion, the term colloquium, first coined for the Bologna event, became a workshop, a terminological clarification that was far from irrelevant. In fact, the idea of a conference, in which each person presents and develops a scientific theme inherent to his or her research, was to be replaced by a seminar meeting, the final result of which would be the fruit of collective experience and elaboration. Hence the smaller format, reserved for the members of the various National Committees, will offer an opportunity for meeting and dialogue that is certainly more intimate and focused than that of conferences or congresses and, above all, based on everyone's participation.

The theme of the workshop is summed up in the polysemantic term Dialogue which, with its various articulations and declinations, will be the main theme of the second volume of the CIHA Journal of Art History (tomorrow LaoZhu, Peter, and Thierry will tell us about it). Dialogue proposes and stimulates the idea of confrontation. In line with the general objectives of CIHA, today's workshop aims to broaden the comparison as much as possible, both from the point of view of the issues addressed and on a geographical scale, through the meeting and exchange of opinions between the members of the committees. In fact, all the members are active in the field of art history, or rather in the profound transformation of the historical-artistic discipline that has been underway for some time in the context of a globalized society.



What is the motivation behind this workshop? I mentioned some of this in the previous point. A lot has changed in the world landscape since 2020, and certainly not for the better. Bologna workshop, in general, has objectives that are closely related to the role of CIHA in the new post-pandemic historical scenario and in the face of emergencies due to damage to the artistic and cultural heritage caused by wars, which have seen a strong escalation in recent years. From a cultural point of view, the current era has witnessed the rapid proliferation of historical-artistic themes, linked to the acceleration of the phenomenon of globalism and open to vast sectors of the history of ideas, material culture, and knowledge. Rarely has there been a constant effort and commitment to the elaboration of constructive and forward-looking comparative syntheses, taking into account both theoretical and methodological aspects, as well as those related to the development of communication, technologies, and operational practices in various sectors, including the field of cultural and artistic heritage, but also that of tourism. In particular, the digital revolution has raised the question of whether the acquisition of new tools for the practice of disciplines will change their very structure.

One of the aims of the workshop is precisely to compare the different cases offered by the countries represented in CIHA (which we hope will continue to grow) and, as a result, to develop effective strategies both in terms of theoretical knowledge and in terms of communication and sharing of knowledge in institutions dedicated to training (universities, academies), research (research institutes), artistic creation (academies, etc.), without neglecting the development of technologies for knowledge of artistic materials and for their conservation (museums).



How can we secure a future for CIHA? Before answering this question with some suggestions that I would like to put forward for your consideration, I would like to pause for a moment to reflect on the bewilderment one feels in the face of the accelerating processes of historical change in the present era. One only has to read what was still being written in the spring of 2020 to verify a temporal distance much greater than the four calendar years that separate us from that time. On the one hand, a passage in the preface by Gerhard Wolf, speaker of the Proceedings of the XXXV CIHA Art History Congress (I am referring to the first part held in Florence in 2019) seems to have been written a century ago, when we describe Florence, known for its very high tourist vocation and strong international appeal, as an empty and desolate city as a result of the pandemic. On the other hand, this passage raises some questions and ultimately expresses a concern that has not yet found adequate and constructive answers or effective solutions. I am quoting freely from the text:

The pandemic, which completely stopped tourism for almost a year from the spring 2020, changed the situation dramatically, the city [Florence] was incredibly empty and sometimes you could be alone when visiting a monument. Virtual seminars with many art historians have discussed the prospects of a more sustainable tourism in the post-pandemic future, which has at least partially begun, and we will have to see what will be realised and what kind of changes there will be à la longue. It is clear, however, that the issues to be addressed are not just about a city and its relationship with the world. They are about the future of travel, about new creative ways of interacting, about global communication and cooperation between people and cultures, and above all about overcoming inequalities in the distribution of resources so that all countries can have the same standards of health care and physical security for their inhabitants[ii].

In fact, the post-pandemic period has seen an indiscriminate increase in travel and an increasingly rapid cultural consumption of places of art. On the other hand, the economic crisis, which was already underway and which was aggravated by the pandemic, has certainly not helped to improve the quality of life and has exacerbated the already too great differences between rich and poor countries. Ecological and environmental problems have not been effectively addressed, and some of the measures taken have not been evenly distributed on a global scale. Moreover, the third millennium began with a rather serious historical contradiction, as the demands of "being global" were accompanied by the dangerous manifestations of sovereignism and nationalism in many parts of the world.

But what is the role of intellectuals in general (and art historians in particular) in this situation? Have we resumed our studies, aware that something has changed profoundly compared to twenty, ten, five years ago, and that we should come to terms with new models of education and communication in our universities? Or did we return to our old habits, satisfied that the threat of a pandemic had passed and that we could resume our normal lives and activities? But what kind of normalcy are we talking about when, in different parts of the world, war fronts are widening, fuelled by a total disregard for human life and the signs of other people's civilisations, a disregard that sometimes takes on racist overtones?

Of course, I have not invoked this historical scenario to propose a political militancy on the part of the CIHA-registered art historian. In my opinion, this is not at all the role of the CIHA. I mentioned it because I believe that one of the main objectives of the CIHA in the future is to increase the number of participating countries. Scrolling through the list of committees on our website, I see countries that are only nominally present and have no representatives, such as Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Tunisia, and Venezuela. Others, not even listed, should be added. When questionable or aberrant political decisions divide parts of the world, an association like ours, super partes, must instead unite, finding points of convergence rather than divergence under the common banner of culture. The widespread resurgence of nationalism is oblivious to the tragedies of the past. By creating models of collaboration that transcend national boundaries and narratives, CIHA is able to demonstrate the capacity of art history and scholars from diverse cultural backgrounds to develop innovative perspectives and discuss the contribution that the field can make to a sustainable future for the planet.

Topics such as sustainability, ecology, and environmentalism can rightly be part of our research, even those related to past civilizations. Raphael's Letter to Leo X, for example, is a warning that is still valid today for the preservation of Rome's monuments and a more or less explicit indictment of the historical neglect from which the Italian capital has suffered and continues to suffer. No road should be left unexplored, but above all a new civic commitment must go hand in hand with the progressive elimination of cultural prejudices that divide rather than unite, prejudices that go so far as to accuse countries of colonialism that, in the current situation, have nothing to do with the historical phenomenon of colonialism. Too many cultural fashions (very often of convenience) have polluted fair critical thinking and slowed down its conscious growth. It is the task of CIHA to defend this thinking, which is superior to any political or nationalist coloration and free from any cultural bias.



Ignoring in part my intention not to avail myself of the help of Councillor Where, I would like to conclude by mentioning the reasons why I chose Bologna as the venue for our workshop. Historically and traditionally, Bologna is a city of tolerance and coexistence between inhabitants of different origins. It is an urban laboratory where, thanks in part to the contribution of the old University, ways of integration have been worked out, and today it does not hide its own difficulties in achieving the reassuring balance it has enjoyed in the recent past. For this reason, it seemed to me the ideal place to reflect on the fact that even if the present world is not the best of all possible worlds (Die beste aller möglichen Welten in the words of the German philosopher Leibniz), it is still a world worth living in and worth fighting for.


Welcome to Bologna and good work!


Marzia Faietti


[i] Salvatore Settis, Giulia Ammannati, Raffaello tra gli sterpi. Le rovine di Roma e le origini della tutela, Milano, Skira, 2022.

[ii] Marzia Faietti, Gerhard Wolf, Preface. Florence 2019 and Beyond, in Motion: Transformation, 35th Congress of the International Committee of the History of Arts Florence 1-6 September 2019, Congress Proceedings edited by Marzia Faietti and Gerhard Wolf, Bologna, Bononia University Press, 2021, Part 1, pp. 11-14 (quote on p. 13).