A profound historical understanding of design – a tribute to Marjan Groot

Written by Javier Gimeno-Martinez

Design is easily connected to modernity with canonical histories of design starting with the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. However, more recent accounts question this starting point. They reckon the divide between design and the decorative arts as artificial and relativize the importance of the Industrial Revolution in the conceptualization of design artefacts. Marjan integrated insights into recent and historical developments of design in her teaching and her research. She combined her research in cutting-edge bio-design with a profound historical understanding of the decorative arts. Moreover, she questioned the established canon of design history in her research towards female designers. Her knowledge of the decorative arts was sound. Her teaching paid a well-deserved attention to how furniture was constructed, what were the different techniques involved, the distinctive names of the different constitutive parts. Thanks to this analysis, also present in her teaching of the module ‘Analyse van Beeld en Object’, the cross-overs of design with the visual arts and architecture became evident. Some pieces of furniture she discussed in class came with visual representations that called for an iconographic analysis. Vocabulary used to describe some 17th-century cupboards she related to terms in architecture. Her understanding of design both as a discipline in development and as anchored in a long tradition honors a legacy to be nurtured and further developed. In Marjan’s work, novelty and tradition do not reflect opposition but continuity.

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Armstoel van beukenhout, bekleed, Jean Avisse, 1750, beukenhout, h 83.5cm × w 59cm × d 47cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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