The material politics of ivory in early modern Europe
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This dissertation sets out to challenge the material history and biography of ivory in early modern Europe (ca. 1600-1800) and explores the mutable materialities of ivory as both a sculptural material and a vehicle of cultural meaning. As an often-peripheral material, ivory's history needs to be reimagined as a central and integral material player on the early modern European artistic stage. Throughout my dissertation, I upend the normative paradigms surrounding ivory to re-contextualize and reconceptualize the material as a performative mechanism of meaning for an object rather than as material used to create an object. This dissertation focuses on four main geographic areas of early modern Europe -- the Austrian Habsburg Empire, the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway, the Electorate of Saxony, and the British Empire -- as an illustration of ivory's material power and also as an elucidation of non-dominant topographical spaces as centers of material artistic prowess. I explore mythological and religious sculptures, political portraits, ivory frigates, and ivory furniture to answer the question of "why ivory?" What made this African material so desirable for European commissioners? What intrinsic cultural, iconographic, and semiotic value did this natural material hold for elite European society? As I argue, ivory's intrinsic religious, mythological, political, and colonial materialities fashioned a material representative of the changing cultural ideologies of early modern Europe. Through the explication of specified narratives, ivory's agency and material potency shines as bright as its own polished surface.