Category Archives: About and General

Our 100th post!

We’re in a celebratory mood over at The Golovine HQ. This post marks our first major milestone – our 100th post to have been published.

The occasion presents the ideal opportunity for us, The Golovine team, to thank all of you who continue to support us by contributing material to the Blog and for reading it. But it also seems like the opportune moment to give ourselves a little pat on the back by casting an eye over the Stats, to see what we’ve achieved over the year and a bit since The Golovine was launched.

Back in December 2012, our global reach looked like this:
Golovine global reach December 2012

Back then, we had a pretty strong readership, unsurprisingly, in the UK. But we did also have a smattering of viewers in: France, the US, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Canada, Turkey, Taiwan, Spain, Hong Kong, Slovenia, Mexico, Switzerland, Australia, the Philippines, Iceland, Japan, Brazil, Bolivia, Germany, Hungary, India and China.

. . . pretty good . . .

As of today, though, it’s fair to say that our global reach has grown a fair bit! The map now looks like this (much less of it is blank!):

Golovine global reach April 2014

To date, a big chunk of our viewers are still domestic (note the blood orange colour of the UK on the map), but we have also had hundreds of hits from readers in the US, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Canada (the darker oranges).

Meanwhile, the total list of countries we’ve managed to infiltrate with all-things art historical looks like this:

Countries

… phew! We’re pretty chuffed with that.

That all translates to a grand total of 14,024 views to date since we launched The Golovine:

Viewer stats

The best month on record was November 2013, when we had 1,285 views. Our best day on record also occurred during that month, on Friday 22nd November. That day we’d published 2nd year undergraduate Maysie Chandler’s post about designing costumes for the University production of Spring Awakening. Maysie’s post attracted over 200 views that day alone - well done Maysie!

The top 10 most popular posts of all time are:

1) Hieronymus Cock: The Renaissance in Print

2) A mysterious manuscript in Liège: Dr. Elizabeth L’Estrange and 3rd year student Holly Wain on their recent research collaboration

3) Five Paintings, Ten Minutes Each = 300 Years of Art History!

4) Postgraduate student Hannah Squire discusses her experience volunteering for the National Trust

5) 35 days, 4 libraries, c.180 call slips, 6 museums, 3 lovely Fellows…. Yale, it was a blast!

6) Defining Faces: MA student Katie Wilson on curating one of the new exhibitions at the Barber

7) LAST CHANCE TO SEE! ‘The First Cut’ A Review of Manchester Art Gallery’s Exhibition by alumnus Natalya Paul

8) Review of ARTIST ROOMS: Damien Hirst at the New Art Gallery, Walsall

9) Second year student Maysie Chandler turns her hand to costume designing for an upcoming University production . . .

10) Elizabeth I, her People…and a Guinea Pig: MA graduate Oliver McCall on his recent Curatorial Internship at the National Portrait Gallery

The most popular search term for us on search engines such as Google is, predictably, “the Golovine”. In fact, our Blog is now the #1 hit on Google if you search for “Golovine”, and the picture of the blog team (below) is the first image that Google generates for the same search term:

Golovine-2

In short, we’ve come a long way since the Summer of 2012 when a couple of us sat down to have a chat about the idea of setting up a departmental Blog, and joked that we should call it “The Golovine” as a play on “we heard it on the (Golo)vine” and taking inspiration from the Barber’s Institute’s much-loved Portrait of Countess Golovine by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. Turns out, though, that plenty of you out there have since heard lots from us on The Golovine . . . Here’s to the next 100 posts . . .

 

 

The Big Wide World of Miniatures by second year art historian Sarah Theobald

I was asked to do a Gallery Talk to members of the public on Tuesday 4th Feb on a collection of miniature paintings that are currently on show in the Barber’s Print Bay in The Beige Gallery. This exhibition, based on the theme of ‘Family Circles’, contains a wonderful range of miniature portraits mainly on loan from the Daphne Foskett Collection.  It’s a great display, including works by some well-known names such as George Engleheart and Sir William Charles Ross and featuring much-loved miniatures such as Isaac Oliver’s Henry, Prince of Wales of 1612 which became the face of the National Portrait Gallery’s 2012-13 exhibition The Lost Prince (and where the miniature took on much larger proportions on the banners).

From miniature to massive: Isaac Oliver's portrait of Henry on the National Portrait Gallery's front door

From miniature to massive: Isaac Oliver’s portrait of Henry on the National Portrait Gallery’s front door

I teamed up with the Collections Assistant at the Barber, Sarah Beattie, who introduced the collection. I then discussed the technique used for traditional miniature painting, which I know a fair bit about because I still use the same technique today for my miniature paintings.

The beautifully diverse collection of miniatures on display allowed me to effectively describe the stages of traditional miniature painting. Contrary to what might be thought, the technique itself is a lot more complicated and time consuming than just painting something in small scale. The word miniature in this case does not even derive from its size. It comes from the Latin word Minium, the name for the red lead paint used in medieval manuscripts, which is where miniature painting started. The display shows a progression of style from the miniatures on vellum through to ivory. Today ivorine or polymin is used as a substitute for ivory. Apart from the support, the technique for painting miniatures today is the same traditional method and it is not what you would expect when using watercolours. Even though it is called watercolour, the paint is not applied as a wash. The paint is actually applied using a process called ‘stippling’ and what is amazing about miniatures is that every part is made up of individual dots.

Sarah delivering her talk

Sarah delivering her talk

Miniatures are so delicate that paint cannot be applied thickly and neither can the dots be overlapped, because this would cause the paint to flake off. Colour has to be built up by filling in the gaps between the dots. The watercolour as a medium is not used as is. The paint is watered down and left to dry to thin out the pigment. Miniatures are based on colour density, not colour intensity. A great example of this can be seen in the background of Peter Oliver’s, Frederick V, Elector Palatine and King of Bohemia, 1623. Peter Oliver has used lines instead of dots, however the top of the background is lighter and where more lines have been applied, the background gets darker.

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Peter Oliver, Frederick V, Elector Palatine and King of Bohemia, 1623

Another fascinating point about miniatures is that the white seen in paintings is not paint, it is the support. Whether on vellum or ivory, miniatures are very delicate. Antique works have to be conserved carefully or they will be lost forever. You have to paint with your hand resting on a bridge over the painting because even the touch of a hand can smudge the work. This is used as an advantage to painters because anything that is applied can be taken away. Look at the image of Portrait of a Lady, called Mary Queen of Scots (1720) on display to fully appreciate this.

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Bernard Lens, Portrait of a Lady, called Mary, Queen of Scots (1720)

It is almost like Bernard Lens was painting backwards. Using this technique of lifting off the paint, to achieve a white colour, paint is taken off leaving the ivory to shine through. Only the highlights on the white are painted on using gouache (or Bodycolour). The difference can be seen in the collars of James Scouler’s two juxtaposed paintings Self Portrait and Alexander Scouler, the Artist’s Brother.

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James Scouler (1741-1812), Self Portrait Painting a Miniature, 1763

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James Scouler (1741-1812), Alexander Scouler, the Artist’s Brother, 1771

At the end of the talk some antique miniatures from my own collection were passed around and my paintings were on show with step by step pictures to illustrate the process.

This is only a dot on the surface of the process for miniature painting, there is a big wide world of miniatures out there that is not thought about in much detail. Hopefully this will help people to look closer at miniatures in the future.

Stages of miniature painting

Stages of miniature painting

The exhibition Family Circles is on at the Barber until 26th May 2014. Find out more here: http://barber.org.uk/family-circles/

If you would like to know more feel free to email Sarah at miniaturesbysarahtheobald@hotmail.com or visit www.facebook.com/miniaturesbysarahtheobald

The miniature paintings and merchandise can also be found in the Barber gift shop or commissioned via Sarah.

If you’re quick, you can catch Sarah doing a talk about another miniature at the Art History Speed Workshop on Weds 19th March at 2pm in the Barber

When in Rome . . . Ella Kilford on this year’s Art History in the Field trip

Some of the group by the Colosseum

Some of the group in the Colosseum

The long-anticipated second year field trip finally came in reading week this February, and what a trip we had! On our return everyone, from the entire department to our friends and family, enviously asked us how the trip had gone – a question to which we all replied positively. In fact we wished we were still there, not only for the fabulous weather in the high 20s but also for the little routine we had got into. Early starts with a quick breakfast at the hotel and then on to visit amazing museums, galleries and beautiful churches. This would be followed by a delicious lunch of antipasti, fresh pizza or pasta, more art, and then an equally sumptuous dinner with a final leisurely stroll back through Rome by night – heaven! Closer to our time of departure and on our return, the trip became collectively known simply as ‘Rome’, and is still referred to now fondly by all of us. The trip is such a great opportunity to study works of art in situ and a really exciting element for any second year Art History student at Birmingham University.

At Gatwick!

At Gatwick…perhaps before we knew the flight was cancelled!!

Arriving at Gatwick to find our flight cancelled was not a fantastic start. Yet witnessing everyone’s – including our lecturer David’s – faces looking up, baffled, at the departure boards, for me, was one of my fondest memories of the trip: you have to laugh! On a positive note, the cancellation resulted in a complimentary night in London’s “best” Travel Lodge and a flight the next day to Pisa, and then a coach through the beautiful Tuscan countryside to our final destination – Rome. The scenic views and buildings we passed were spectacular and allowed the group to bond.

Rome - walking the cobbles

Rome – Walking the Cobbles

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

Rome - pasta and pizza

Pizza and past in Rome

So, why is a Rome a good location for a study trip, then? Well, where to begin…as second year Art Historian Maysie said, there are simply ‘too many reasons’. All of us agreed that the variety of art available in Italy’s capital city was a massive advantage. From antique ruins, statues and sarcophagi to contemporary installations in the Modern Art Museum, there really is something for everyone’s taste and research interest. There’s even a few Monet’s in the Modern Art Museum.

Student selfie on top of Alfredo Pirri's broken mirrors installation in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna

Student selfie on top of Alfredo Pirri’s broken mirrors installation in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna

As part of our studies in the second year, we take a Research Techniques module which is designed, though a literature review, to complement the Study Trip, by encouraging us to choose and research an object that we will study in situ in advance of the trip. This exercise is also great preparation for our final year dissertation which is also on a single art object. This early preparation for our final year is, for me and my colleagues, one of the many attractions of studying art history at Birmingham University.

Ruins in the Roman Forum

Ruins in the Roman Forum

Students in the statue gallery in the Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna

Seeing the actual objects or art works that we had selected to research for our summer term presentation – the assessment for this module – was a real highlight and pleasure. People in the group have chosen a range of items, ranging from a contemporary photograph by Gabriele Basilico to Bernini’s famous David sculpture, and the façade of San Giovanni in Laterano. The rich diversity of our research interests and objects rendered the trip really interesting, as on multiple occasions we would go and see each other’s object, just out of the desire to learn more from our peers.

Another selfie...this time David elucidating exactly what the Apollo Belvedere is doing. Vatican Museums

Another selfie…this time David elucidating exactly what the Apollo Belvedere is doing in the famous sculpture in the Vatican Museums

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Group shot in St Peter’s

One of my highlights of Rome was the day that we spent with one of the PhD students, Jamie, who accompanied us on the trip (read what else Jamie got up to here). We spent the day walking through Rome and visited the object of Sophie’s research, the Villa Farnesina. This villa built by Agostino Chigi, a rich banker and treasurer of Pope Julius II, contains some spectacular frescos by Raphael and his workshop. All of us enjoyed learning about the Chigi’s exciting and extravagant parties which were hosted in the villa in the summer months. There would have been music, dancing, food, and plenty of wine.

Loggia, Villa Farnesina

Raphael’s Loggia, Villa Farnesina

Although we had an itinerary drawn up by our lecturers, Liz and David, including some of Rome’s main attractions, we also had some free time to explore the city. Thus on some mornings and afternoons we visited other areas of interest and soaked up our cultural surroundings. As the hotel we stayed in was central to all areas of Rome, we could walk to pretty much everything on foot. The metro offered a quick and cheap alternative if we were feeling tired, but walking is so much more rewarding as treasures can be uncovered around every corner. The Trevi Fountain takes you by surprise, appearing amongst shops and cafes when turning around a corner, and it is astonishing when illuminated by night.

The Trevi Fountain in the bright Roman sunshine

The Trevi Fountain in the bright Roman sunshine

Although the aim of the study trip was obviously for academic purposes, and we all learnt so much, we still had plenty of fun. Rome will definitely be a highlight of my time here at Birmingham University studying Art History.

Group dinner on the penultimate evening

Group dinner on the penultimate evening

Making music from asses in Hell

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, Prado, Madrid

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, Prado, ,Madrid

Just a short post this time. I’ve just noticed a rather fascinating little article in today’s Guardian. A keen American blogger (and apparently self-confessed nerd), has discovered some hitherto unknown sheet music on the ass of one the damned in the right wing of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych (detail pic. below). I say hitherto unknown, what I really mean is sheet music nobody else has ever bothered to transcribe. What’s more, not only has she transcribed it, she’s also converted it into modern notation and made a recording of the sound, which, if you’re interested, there’s a clip of here.

Bosch Earthly delights detail

This triptych, which has long been a fascination of mine, was probably painted in the 1480s (most books say post-1500… but that’s another story) and was probably commissioned from Bosch by a member of the Nassau family (… again, another story, not for here). The triptych was copied numerously in the 16th century, in paint, in print and in tapestry. Although the picture is mired in controversy, I do think that it was in all likelihood supposed to represent, and warn against,  moral and sinful transgressions such as lust and gluttony; there is, after all, and in keeping with convention for triptychs at the time, a depiction of Hell on the right wing, which we must presume illustrates the fate of the protagonists who are leaping around and fornicating on the middle panel. But this isn’t to say that Bosch wasn’t willing to have fun with it. Musical instruments feature to a great deal in the Hell wing, probably as a playful, but still meaningful, indictment of mankind that continues to succumb to pleasure even though they have been cast headlong into fiery Hell, for punishment of their mortal sins. Links between music and depraved behavior, specifically lust, were not rare in Bosch’s world. And the representation of a disorganized and motley crew–an orchestra of sorts, conducted by a demonic creature in pink –, who are shown gleefully reading the ass music, fits in perfectly with this theme of folly and is testament to Bosch’s sardonic nature.

Jamie

Emily Martin reviews the RA’s recent ‘Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris’ exhibition

Daumier, Ecce Homo c.1848-52, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

Daumier, Ecce Homo c.1848-52, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

In need of a change of scene from the busy streets of post-Christmas sale shopping, I beat a hasty retreat to the calm and welcoming rooms of the Royal Academy in London. Their exhibition, which has recently closed, on Honoré Daumier, Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris, caught my eye and intrigued (I don’t know anything about 19th century satirical art) I decided to have a look. This exhibition, it turned out, is something of a momentous occasion, as it is the first Daumier exhibition to have been staged in London in fifty years. The collection on display is an incredibly extensive one, beginning with the sketches and mini busts he made for Charles Philipon’s magazine La Caricature and continuing chronologically through his life, and ending with his retreat into his own secluded world with the paintings of an artist looking at his own work as if reflecting on life.

The exhibition is organized into clear and structured rooms, making the artwork visible and accessible to a large number of people eagerly, albeit very Britishly, standing and musing over Daumier’s pictures. There were a few works of art that stood out for me and which I remember very clearly. First was the large and impressive painting Ecce Homo c.1848-52, which represents Daumier’s view on the 1848 French revolution. The painting depicts Jesus Christ, the crown of thorns around his head, his hands and neck in chains, standing before a condemning crowd during his judgment by Pontius Pilot. Painted in broad, rapid strokes, the forms only roughly defined by black outlines, as well as the toned down colour palette all combine to create an effective sense of angry, jostling crowds who, on a hot day, besiege a convicted man. As Daumier was not religious his message can be seen as a political one, one which recalls the protests and easy manipulation of crowds during an uprising. Above all I get the feeling, by looking at this painting, that if I just step a little closer I will be swept up, peering round the child lifted high in the foreground, and thrown into the crowd; churning, twisting and milling below the platform on which Christ is displayed.

That wasn’t the only time during this exhibition that I felt part of Daumier’s art, as an active participant in it. As Daumier’s interest in the new art of photography grew, he emulated images in his own medium and style. However, unlike the art of photography, in which the viewer remains, more often than not, distant and separated from the image, Daumier’s art draws his audience in; the figures are so close to the picture plane that it is hard at times not to imagine that you are part a part of the composition. In the gallery, the photograph Organ-grinder c.1853 by Charles Nègre, Daumier’s neighbour, seemingly inspired the French artist to create his own version of the work. These two images have been hung next to each other in an attempt to encourage the understanding that artists felt a certain affinity with such musicians during the late 19th century, as both métiers were reliant on finding an audience in the troubled times of an unsettled France in order to make their living. Daumier, it would seem, finds images that no one else would think of as being art. Such as Man on a Rope c.1858-60, the scraped surface of which relays so much more than solely technique.

Daumier, Man on a Rope c.1858-60, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Canada

Daumier, Man on a Rope c.1858-60, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Canada

Daumier, The Print Collector c.1860, oil on canvas, Museum of Art Philadelphia

Daumier, The Print Collector c.1860, oil on canvas, Museum of Art Philadelphia

One room in the exhibition particularly caught my attention. The works displayed here focused on the theme of relationships between artworks and viewers, a topic that personally interests me greatly, and Daumier is certainly an artist whose art positively forces all observers to actively look at it. The Print Collector c.1860 embodies this act of looking as curator Catherine Lampert described: “…there’s nothing like that slow, silent scrutiny of someone looking at a work of art and you have that sense, that image of looking…and communing and identifying with a work of art.” The man, bent over his in depth study of prints invites the onlookers in the gallery to join him in perusing the art.

Continuing around the gallery towards the last works of art it becomes more and more evident that ultimately, as Lampert says, “artists make art for the love of working”. The satirical portraits gave way to artworks created towards the end of Daumier’s life that appear more self-reflective and more melancholy. The Third-Class Carriage c.1862-64, a prime example, portrays the three ages of man in a dreary and ill-lit train, the effect created is not so much a challenge to the social class system but a sad acceptance instead. I found myself thinking that this exhibition is not so much about identifying with a work of art but was far more about actively engaging with one, and experiencing a little taster of life in revolutionary Paris.

The Third-Class Carriage c.1862-64, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Photo from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Third-Class Carriage c.1862-64, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Photo from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Although the exhibition has since closed, you can find loads more out about it, about Daumier and Daumier’s art here.

Check out the Barber Association’s Spring Programme!

Barber-Association-Programe-Jan-March-2014

To book your place on any of these events or to join the Barber Association please contact: education@barber.org.uk

Wednesday 22 January – Discover the Research and Cultural Collections 2-3.30pm

An afternoon at University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural Collections Discover the diverse and surprising collections held within Research and Cultural Collections including decorative arts, science instruments and objects exploring the University’s own heritage. You will also have the opportunity to take part in an object handling workshop with RCC staff exploring how to work with, interpret and curate objects.

8 places available Booking essential. Barber Association members only.

(Meet at Research and Cultural Collections, 32 Pritchatts Road)

Wednesday 29 January – ‘Refacing the coinage’ 1 – 3pm followed by free tea and cake

Drawing workshop with professional artist Tom Jones Join professional artist Tom Jones for a drawing workshop exploring the fascinating symbols, inscriptions and iconography found on Islamic and Byzantine coins in the Barber collection. Get up close to the coins, study them through drawing and use this visual vocabulary to create visual and verbal graphics that represent your own face, character and identity. No prior drawing skills or knowledge of coins necessary!

7 places available. Booking essential. Barber Association members only.

Wednesday 5 February ‘Behind the scenes at the Cadbury Research Library’, 2 – 3.30pm

A tour through the Cadbury Research Library, home of the University’s Special Collections. You will have the opportunity to see inside the strong rooms where the manuscripts and rare books are stored and visit the conservation studio, including a practical demonstration of Japanese lining techniques by the paper conservator. The tour will include a viewing and handling session of some of the highlights from the collections as well as an introduction to the current exhibition: Art and Anatomy curated by Professor Alice Roberts.

15 places available. Booking essential. Barber Association members only.

(Meet at the Muirhead foyer exhibition cases at 2pm)

Wednesday 26 February – Contemporary Art lunchtime lecture followed by a free printmaking workshop 1.10 – 2pm

Lunchtime Lecture – ‘The who, what, why and where of contemporary art’

Join independent curator and writer Anneka French who will be discussing the  ‘ins and outs ’ of contemporary art, inspired by our New Art West Midlands exhibition. Free, just turn up.

Free printmaking workshop – 2 – 4.30pm Come along for a taster session in drypoint, a form of printmaking involving scratching a design into a copper plate. See some fabulous examples of drypoint in the Barber’s collection, including Egon Schiele’s Crouching Woman, watch a demonstration of the process, then have a go at making your own drypoint print!

Schiele drypoint

12 places available. Booking essential. Barber Association members only.

March – date tbc – A visit to the award-winning art gallery Compton Verney which has an amazing collection of Baroque art from Naples, sculptures and paintings from the Northern Renaissance and British portraits, amongst other things! http://www.comptonverney.org.uk

Compton Verney in Warwickshire

Compton Verney in Warwickshire

Wednesday 5 March – Contemporary Art Study Afternoon 1.30 – 4.30pm

Includes free tea and biscuits! Explore new art at the Barber… inspired by our New Art West Midlands exhibition, contemporary art is the focus of this study afternoon of lectures and discussion. Meet the New Art West Midlands exhibition curators and exhibiting artists to find out more about their work and practice in their own words. Discussions will also consider the challenges and opportunities facing new artists emerging today and explore what’s exciting in the regional art scene right now. Find out more about the exhibition at: http://newartwestmidlands.org/

Wednesday 19 March ‘Art History Speed Workshop #3: Life and Death’ 2 – 3pm followed by free tea and cake for BA members!

Expand your knowledge of art through five key paintings with the theme of Life and Death. A bit like speed dating, you’ll spend a few minutes up close and personal with a picture, with our very own undergraduate and postgraduate history of art students, before moving on to the next one. Unlike speed dating, you might find you don’t want to run a mile at the end, but instead linger a bit longer in the gallery and enjoy free tea and cake with fellow Barber Association members!

Speed Dating Marie Speed Dating Jamie

This could be you..! Would you like to work with a postgraduate student to develop and deliver a Speed Art talk for this event? If so, contact Dr Elizabeth L’Estrange, e.a.lestrange@bham.ac.uk

FREE, please book your place by emailing e.a.lestrange@bham.ac.uk

First year student Callum Davidson on Speed Dating: Round 2!

Speed Workshop

L – R: Oliver, Hannah, Jamie, Imogen, Dr. Liz L’Estrange, Dr. Fran Berry, Marie and Carly (who was usher this time around)

On the 4th of December I went along to the Barber Institute’s second speed workshop run by the Art History department at the University of Birmingham. After the success of the first speed workshop earlier this year, this workshop was just as interesting, enjoyable and enlightening as the first, if not more.

If you’re unsure what the speed workshops are all about then imagine speed-dating but with paintings instead of people. You get 10 minutes with a post-graduate student and a work of art from the Barber Institute’s collection of their choice, and the post-grad attempts to educate you about that artwork as fully as they can in just 10 minutes. When the 10 minutes are up, you’re ushered on to the next post-grad/picture, and so on until you’ve done the full circuit of 5. Each of the presenters had their own method of presenting their chosen work and each did a very good job of it!

Speed Dating Oli

I was first introduced to the exquisite and wonderfully intricate miniature showing the Flight into Egypt by the Boucicaut Master, dated to between 1404 and 1415. This fascinating little work was presented by Oliver but when we first walked into the study room where the miniature was set-up in a little alcove, we weren’t sure what we were meant to be looking at until Oliver pointed it out to us. It’s tiny! But once you look at this work more closely you are really able to appreciate everything about it. Oliver he told us as much as he could about the miniature, which shows the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s plans to massacre all baby boys. It’s amazing that Oliver was still explaining things and answering our questions about such a tiny work of art when the ten minutes was up.  The sheet was taken from an early fifteenth-century Book of Hours (a prayer book for the laity) and, like many other books of its kind from the period, it was pulled apart page-by-page and sold at auction to the highest bidder. Although it is, in some ways, a terrible shame that such a fine work of art should be almost desecrated, it does mean that we are able to enjoy this fantastic miniature in the Barber Institute. When looking at this page up-close it’s clear that a tremendous amount of skill went into creating the miniature, which (with help from its careful custodians at the Barber of course!) has enabled it to survive in pretty good nick despite being some 600 years old!

Speed Dating Jamie

We were then ushered on to our next “date”: Cosimo Rosselli’s Adoration of the Magi from around 1484 which was presented by Jamie. This picture could not have been more different to the tiny one we had just left behind. Once an altarpiece, probably inside a Florentine church, Rosselli’s Adoration is pretty large (monumental, even, in comparison to the Flight into Egypt miniature) and it dominates the bay in which it hangs. Jamie really engaged his audience and challenged us to think about what we were viewing, by conducting a Q&A session of sorts after giving us a brief overview of what we were looking at. We discussed the subject of the altarpiece, the three Kings adoring the infant Christ, and we also tried to figure out who the other characters present are (requiring us to summon all our knowledge of saints’ attributes that we’ve gained so far on our degrees…) and why they are there, coming up with the theory that certain saints are shown because they were particularly relevant to the church for which the altarpiece was made and/or its patron(s). Jamie also pointed out to us that in the far distance you can just make out an angel (“. . . it’s the thing that looks a bit like a squashed fly”, he says), who is announcing the birth of Christ birth to farmers on a hill. Thus although the altarpiece shows the adoring Magi, Rosselli cleverly managed to allude to the associated story of the adoring shepherds as well. 

Speed Dating Imogen

Then, into the next gallery we went to join Imogen with the Still Life with a Nautilus Cup by Jan Davidsz de Heem from 1632. This still life is full of all of the symbolism and hidden meanings that you would expect from a 17th-century Dutch still life and we debated the various meanings of most of the main objects in the paintings and even some of the smaller objects, like the lemon rind and walnuts. We discussed the idea of vanitas and earthly-wealth that would not accompany you to heaven (or hell if you’re unlucky) and how this was represented by the worn appearance of the objects and how they are all in disarray. Finally we were divided when debating whether there is a large dent in the metal vase at the centre of the composition, or whether this was a reflection of the plate in the shiny surface and what the potential significance of this might be (…though I think it is a dent).

Speed Dating Marie

10 minutes up and we were whisked on again into the next gallery to see Etienne Aubry’s Paternal Love from 1775 presented to us by Marie. Marie made us think about the characters in the painting and their relationships to one another in depth, and by doing so demonstrated how Aubry’s painting tells a story that can be interpreted in many ways. We focused mainly on the middle-aged man who seems to have just arrived in the room. We discussed who he may be and his social status, and considered how this would affect his relationship to the other figures seen in the picture. This character is greeting one child, yet neglecting two others, and we also observed that the mother figure has rolled up sleeves, which may indicate that she is from a working class background; this is in contrast to the man’s finery which suggestive of high social status. In turn, these observations allowed us to speculate about what the story behind the picture is. Perhaps the child the man is greeting is his illegitimate child? If so, is there a moral significance here? Perhaps these kinds of issues about families, fidelity and filial piety had a particular resonance in France during the second half of the 1700s.

Speed Dating Hannah

Finally we moved again and came to a stop in front of Pierre Bonnard’s Doll’s Dinner Party from around 1903, presented by Hannah. We were first told that Bonnard liked to paint things that were familiar to him and this is an important thing to keep in mind when discussing his paintings, which are often marked by a sense of the voyeuristic. We looked at the way that the door and the mother – Bonnard’s sister – framed the children and how the hazy light and the darkness which his sister almost melts into gives the idea of a snapshot in time, a flickering memory of the event captured in a sketch, painted later in a studio.

When our final 10 minutes were up the speed workshop came to an end and I can honestly say that it was 50 minutes well spent. I had been in the group which was lucky enough to get a chronological journey through the gallery and I think I speak for everyone when I say that each of the paintings and the students who presented them were fantastic. Personally I think that the very first work I saw, the miniature by the Boucicaut Master was the most interesting as it had a real sense of history about it which I thoroughly enjoyed. The afternoon was then capped off by mince pies and wine downstairs in the Barber, where we continued to chat about the paintings and got to ask all the questions we had run out of time for earlier. This speed workshop was in my opinion an overwhelming success and if you don’t believe me come to the next one! There’s also a short video of the workshop on YouTube here

There will be another speed workshop in March as part of the UoB Arts and Science Festival, with the theme ‘Life and Death’.

Undergraduates Emily Martin and Callum Davidson chat to David Hemsoll about his new book. . .and a few other things.

Talking to David Hemsoll about his new book, The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo, Renaissance and Later Architecture and Ornament, it is impossible not to be caught up by his enthusiasm. His love of Renaissance architecture is infectious and his book, co-authored by Paul Davies, which contains so many fascinating discoveries, is one that has obviously brought him much enjoyment over the twelve years that it has taken to compile.

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Made up of moments of fortuitousness the book, written in two volumes and commissioned by the Royal Collection, for which David has previously written, is a research project from the Warburg Institute in London and funded by, among other foundations, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Its contents are based on the huge collection of drawings that Cassiano dal Pozzo, a patron of the arts during the 17th century, accumulated. Having been acquired by George III in 1762 and therefore left in the Royal Collection, many of them remained uncatalogued, unidentified and largely unknown despite containing works by some of the greatest 16th and 17th century artists, including Raphael, Michelangelo and Bernini. The drawings capture moments of architectural design that allowed David and Paul to understand how the process of configuration was practised. However it is a research project unlike any other, as David put it, “a stumbling process”. One thing led to another and before they knew it David and Paul had discovered another amazing document, such as a preparatory scheme for the Palazzo del Te in Mantua, for which no design was previously known about. Or realizing that Michelangelo’s preparatory plan for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, previously thought to be made in 1580 was in fact designed in the 1550s, meaning that it was the first scheme for the project that the artist, sculptor and architect ever made!

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As David showed us the pages in the volumes his enthusiasm grew and it became clear that art history isn’t merely his job, it’s a vocation, and to think, he might not have become an art historian but an architect instead! Luckily though, as he admitted he wasn’t a very good student in architecture and he took another degree in history of art. We asked David if he preferred art history to architecture and thankfully he replied, “Yes, I’m good at that!”

Discoveries for the book seemed to appear right until the last minute, and they never got less exciting either. It’s such a remarkable thought that so many of these works have just been waiting to be identified, and that’s just what The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo, Renaissance and Later Architecture and Ornament is all about.

We had a few questions for David that didn’t concern his book.

What are your tips for students?

Research is in the writing and only as you engage with what you’re doing can you understand the real questions that need to be asked.

(So if you’re struggling with that essay, just start writing and it will all become clear, apparently!)

What is your favourite painting?

Birth of Venus by Botticelli, partly for all the wrong reasons, it’s about women with no clothes on and that sort of thing. I find it a very, very beautiful picture both conceptually and physically and I like to think of why that is the case. I’m kind of an escapist, so if I have pictures in my house I like them to be beautiful rather than instructive. This is really beautiful and I’ve written about it in the past and I find it very interesting to consider why it is so beautiful and why so many people think it’s beautiful. If you visit the Uffizi it’s the picture that everybody’s looking at and I wonder why it is the case that it has that hold over people.

Botticelli's Birth of Venus, c. 1485, Uffizi, Florence

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, c. 1485, Uffizi, Florence

What person dead or alive would you most like to meet?

Probably the jazz musician John Coltrane because I’m such a huge admirer and because he was a practitioner in something I like, but was just so completely in a different world from anyone else.  Also because he was such a strange and paradoxical person; a man of God who’s also a heroin addict, I find that quite interesting, because I’m neither of those.

John Coltrane in 1963

John Coltrane in 1963

How do you find lecturing?

I do get very anxious about teaching sometimes. A long time ago and I hadn’t been here so long, we had a new intake of students and there was one of them there that looked really bolshie and she was called Camilla Smith! She denies she looked bolshie but she does sort of look challenging and when you have a lot of undergraduates in there that look challenging you think, ‘Am I saying something wrong? What am I doing now? I haven’t done this properly have I?’ You do feel slightly nervous, but I don’t feel as worried as I used to do.

(So, if you think the lecturer looks scary, they are probably just scared of you!)

David is going to be giving a couple of lunchtime lectures on his book, the first one is on Wednesday 27th November at 1pm and the second is on Wednesday 4th December again at 1pm, both will be held in the Barber Lecture Theatre. Come along and hear about his and Paul’s ground breaking findings and how they discovered them.  

RBSA: Our Collection, Our Archive and You by Hang Nguyen

RBSA Our collection, Archive and You

The RBSA is Birmingham’s oldest artist-led group and the only artist-led group in Birmingham that owns its own gallery and has a permanent venue for its activities. Located just off the only surviving Georgian square in Birmingham, St Paul’s Square, the Society dedicates three floors of exhibition space to fulfill its charitable objectives: to promote artists and the appreciation of the visual arts.

Since the beginning of 2013, I have been co-curating an exhibition with recent Birmingham History of Art graduate Chloë Lund for the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. As an Undergraduate Archive Volunteer, I have enjoyed access to the RBSA’s treasures from its Permanent Collection at close hand, and our exhibition displays a rich selection of the artworks acquired by the RBSA in the past five years, as well as some that have never before been exhibited. The exhibition will not only explore the contents of the Permanent Collection but also the relationship between the Society and the local community, which includes students at the University of Birmingham–each and every one of you! Art History students at the University of Birmingham have many opportunities to get involved with the RBSA, and you can read a bit about what other students have got up to with them here and here.

Chloë Lund and Hang Nguyen

Chloë Lund and Hang Nguyen

The RBSA’s substantial archive is an invaluable resource for the understanding of the history of the Society and its relationship with the people of Birmingham, as well as the wider artistic community. Edward Burne-Jones, a Pre-Raphaelite artist, was himself President of the RBSA as well as other notable artists such as John Everett Millais. Included in the exhibition is a work by the acclaimed photo-realist artist, John Salt, whose work can also be seen during the BMAG’s exhibition on Photorealism. The stories of the Archive have been told through the contributions of many different people and have helped us to create a collective memory of the Society. This exhibition aims to reveal the ways that the Collection and Archive have been shaped by our relationships with our supporters, community, local environment which includes the all the students at the university.

During our exhibition, we will be hosting a variety of free events which include a Student Friendly on Friday 15th November . The night is open to everyone and anyone; it will be an informal, relaxed evening where we, the curators, get a chance to talk to our peers about the Society and this exhibition over a glass of wine! There will also be a chance to join us on a walk around the local canals of Birmingham with RBSA Member Paul Hipkiss who will be talking about his prints inspired by the local places on Saturday 16th November. Finally, there will be a free demonstration by RBSA Member John Shakespeare on Saturday 23rd November.

Curating the RBSA Archive Exhibition has been a challenge that I have relished. The project has given me the chance to find out so much more about the thriving artistic culture in Birmingham and as a born and bred brummie, this has revitalised my own interest in the city. I hope to see you all at the RBSA for the Archive Exhibition, helping to write more chapters in the story of the Society as well as the city.

Mixing Things Up – Polly Adams-Felton and Caroline Hetherington on what the new Barber Association has to offer

This academic year, term kicked off with a programme of events by hosted the newly-formed Barber Association, created specifically to strengthen links between the Institute and students in Art History and Music through social and cultural events. We inaugurated the Association with pizza, beer, wine and more pizza at the Barber Mixer on 28 September.

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Students enjoying a drink at the mixer

With a brilliant string quartet keeping us entertained with some unexpected arrangements (think S Club 7, Abba and MGMT), and a pose-as-your-favourite-painting fancy dress photo booth, it was a great chance for students from across the university to meet and socialise with each other and members of staff. It was the first event for the current cohort of Art History undergrads to socialise as a department, to meet the new postgrads and to finally get to know the mysterious music students with whom we share our building! There were some brilliant entries to the photo booth completion and a very worthy winner.

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Getting dressed up in the photobooth

Winners

The winners – two of our new UGs get into the spirit!

The next event for Association members was a portraiture drawing workshop – a chance for some artwork to be created in the gallery, in front of the paintings with the guidance of Tom Jones, a Birmingham based artist. This workshop was full to capacity and saw the creation of some beautiful drawings. We also had some wonderful cakes and tea and coffee and a natter afterwards – almost as good as the session itself!

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Taking inspiration from the gallery at the Portrait Workshop

This is just the start of a year of exciting and interesting events aimed at bringing everyone with an interest in the Barber Institute together. Other benefits of joining include sneak peeks behind the scenes, visits to regional and national galleries, and getting more involved in Barber favourites like choosing ‘Object of the Month’. We’re looking forward to a Q+A with exhibiting artist John Monks on the 14th November. John Monks is one of Britain’s leading and most successful contemporary painters, collected by, among others, Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood. The Barber Association has secured an exclusive opportunity for members to meet John Monks at a special Q&A session before the exhibition opens, when they will be able to ask the artist about his work and his career, his inspirations and influences and the contemporary art scene.

John Monks

John Monks, Yellow Chair

This event will only be open to Barber Association members (obviously this includes all First Year History of Art and Music students, as well as new Masters and PhD students, who are automatically members). We also have a Speed Workshop on 4th December (read about the last one here), and Galleries Night and Art Bus on 11th December followed by a trip out for dinner and to the pub, and (most importantly) a steady supply of tea and cake. Barber Association members are also now entitled to a 10% discount on Barber merchandise in the shop – an excellent place to do some Christmas shopping!

The Barber Association is about building a dialogue between the team behind the running of the gallery and the students who study there. We are working hard to build up the events and have an amazing year full of opportunities. If you would like to become a member of this exciting association, you can join at the Barber Institute cask desk or by calling 01214147333. You can also keep an eye on Barber Association events by checking the tab on The Golovine and liking their Facebook page.

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