Shira Brisman is an Assistant Professor in the History of Art department at the University of Pennsylvania. A scholar of early modern art focusing on the period of 1400-1800, her current teaching and research projects center around topics in print culture, art and law, images and religious conflict, material waste and conservation, and the ethics of community building and communication. Her first book, Albrecht Dürer and the Epistolary Mode of Address (University of Chicago Press, 2016), argues that the experience of writing, sending and receiving letters shaped how Germany’s most famous printmaker conceived of the message-bearing properties of the work of art. She is currently at work on a new manuscript entitled The Goldsmith’s Debt, which focuses on the relationship of property to intellectual property in the era of secularization.
Wolf Humanities Center Faculty Fellow
2020—2021 Forum on Choice
Assistant Professor of the History of Art
The Goldsmith’s Debt: Property, Intellectual Property, and the Rhetoric of Choice
Beginning in the 1530s, a new kind of art booklet appeared in print. Many of these compilations of designs, which were aimed at other craftsmen and presented as visual motifs to be shared, were devised by goldsmith-engravers, metalworkers who also made prints. Yet while the rhetoric of proffering choice seemingly promoted an ethos akin to “open-source access,” the city records of print centers such as Nuremberg have a different story to tell. The darker side of artistic choice emerges when the visual strategies for indicating the availability of options are juxtaposed with archival evidence of the legal consequences of what “taking” and “making” meant. Focusing on laws about the transmission of property that governed the goldsmith-engraver’s craft, I argue that the invented space of the print served as a fantastical realm for the suspension of laws about origin and ownership.