Category Archives: Barber Institute

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.


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.


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.


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


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:

If you would like to know more feel free to email Sarah at or visit

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

The Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies Annual Colloquium: Curating Art History

UoB crest

Tickets are now on sale for this year’s Annual Art History Colloquium, organised in conjunction with the Journal of Art HistoriographyTickets, priced at £10 for students and £20 full price, can be purchased from the Online Shop here.

“Curating Art History: Dialogues between museum professionals and academics” will take place on the 7th and 8th May 2014 at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts.


Catherine De Lorenzo

(University of New South Wales, Australia)


Helen Shaw (University of York); Andy Ellis (Public Catalogue Foundation); Karen Raney (Engage Journal); Ming Turner (National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan; Vera Carmo (University of Coimbra, Portugal); Elin Morgan (The University of Birmingham; The New Art Gallery, Walsall); Rebecca Darley and Daniel Reynolds (The Warburg Institute; The University of Birmingham); Richard Clay, Henry Chapman, Leslie Brubaker (The University of Birmingham); Stacy Boldrick (The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh); Simon Cane (Birmingham Museums Trust)


Ethnography and curating native art:
Australian art history and Aboriginal art; curating Native American art

Knowledge exchange and development:
Providing specialist knowledge to public art collections; gallery education and curatorial strategies

Exhibitions that challenge curatorial practice and art history: 
Post-humanist desire: Innovative research and methods of display; Crash Music: re-exhibiting impermanent art; Jacob Epstein’s Rock Drill: a creative curatorial opportunity

Case study at the Barber Institute:
Exhibiting coins as economic artefacts: Faith and Fortune: visualizing the divine on Byzantine and early Islamic coinage

Round table - International Iconoclasms network:
Cross-disciplinary debate and Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm at Tate Britain

The poster is available here: Curating Art History Colloquium 7th and 8th May 2014

Picture of the Month – the student’s choice: Rossetti’s Blue Bower (1865)

As members of the Barber Association and the Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies, our students get involved in the Barber Institute’s Picture of the Month Scheme.

This month (March), second year student and artist in her own right, Sarah Theobald picked Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Blue Bower which was painted in 1865.

Here is what she says about it:

“This painting is the reason why I chose to attend the University of Birmingham.  I joined ‘The Pre-Raphaelite Society’ when I was fourteen and the thought of being able to study in the same building as this exquisite Rossetti, and see the painting as much as possible, was just too enticing.

The image is a truly striking example of the Pre-Raphaelites’ desire to achieve excellence in the minutest of detail.  Rossetti himself said that it was filled with ‘opulence, sophistication of hue, and beguiling decoration.’

For me, it is one of the Barber’s triumphal acquisitions.”

The Blue Bower, 1865 (oil on canvas), Barber Institute of Fine Arts

The Blue Bower, 1865 (oil on canvas), Barber Institute of Fine Arts

You can find out more about the Blue Bower here and see it up in the Barber Galleries (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm and Sat-Sun 11am-5pm).

Watch this space for Sarah’s report on her gallery talk for the Barber’s display of miniatures!

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Check out the Barber Association’s Spring Programme!


To book your place on any of these events or to join the Barber Association please contact:

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!

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:

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,

FREE, please book your place by emailing

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.


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!

DSCF7069 ok

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.  

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.

Barber Mixer 5

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.

Barber Mixer 4

Getting dressed up in the photobooth


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!


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.

A date for your diaries this week: Can we trust the experts on what’s good and bad in art?


Controversies surrounding artworks and the art market are many and take on many forms. In a special event taking place this Thursday (24th) at The Barber Institute, organised in conjunction with NADFAS (the National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies), one particular controversy is on the agenda: the thorny subject of “quality” in art and the “science” of attributing pictures to artists.

Rembrandt(?), Polish Rider, Frick Collection, NYC

Rembrandt(?), Polish Rider, Frick Collection, NYC

Popular NADFAS lecturer David Phillips will be discussing the mysterious Polish Rider in New York’s Frick Collection, which may or may not have been painted by Rembrandt van Rijn. Rembrandt’s œuvre has been the subject of a decades-long project (the Rembrandt Research Project), which has tried to settle once and for all just what Rembrandt did or didn’t do. The project though has ended-up becoming as much a study about the trickiness of attribution itself as of Rembrandt’s output as an artist. Meanwhile, right now, Martin Kemp (the doyenne of Leonardo da Vinci studies) is convinced that he has discovered a new work (that is to say, a picture that has up to now languished in a private collection) by Leonardo: the Salvator Mundi. Kemp’s “discovery”, however, has stimulated a great deal of argument among the experts, with many specialists disputing Kemp’s attribution of the picture to Leonardo.

Leonardo(?), Salvator Mundi, private collection, NYC

Leonardo(?), Salvator Mundi, private collection, NYC

So why not come along this Thursday and listen to David at the Barber as he reviews a number of these controversies. He will also join the Barber’s curatorial team in conversation about some of the Institute’s own attribution riddles, affecting works formerly attributed to Rembrandt, Goya, Constable and Gauguin.

And what’s more, it’s FREE for students (glass of wine thrown in as well). The event kicks-off at 6pm with a drinks reception and late view in the galleries, followed at 7 by David’s lecture and discussion. Tickets are available from the Barber Reception (we’ve been told that booking is advised!).

Dates for your Diary this Autumn!

It may be the end of August but things are hotting up already for the autumn term! Here at The Golovine we’ve put together an overview of some of the exciting things being organised in and around the department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies. So, whether you are a prospective student, a new or returning student, an alumnus or just interested in the arts, we are sure you’ll find something here to tempt you! We look forward to seeing you at one or more of these events soon!

It all kicks off with an Open Day on Saturday 14th September that includes departmental talks, accommodation tours, and lots of information about studying at Birmingham. Let’s hope the campus will look like this again!


Come and visit the Art History, Film and Visual Studies stand in the Bramall Building from 9am-4pm.To book a place, visit this link. There’s another one on 26th October too!

Fresher’s week starts on 23rd September – start by grabbing your free copy of The Incredible Human Journey by Professor Alice Roberts, this year’s choice for GRAB, the Great Read at Birmingham 2013!


The book traces the origins of the human race from Africa through our colonisation of the globe. Using scientific methods, from analysis of climate changes to human genetics, whilst also exploring art, culture and society, the book encourages the reader to ask some of the great questions in life: who are we, and how did we get here?

The weekend of 28th September is a bumper one! First, we are running our Taster Day for Year 12 and 13 Students and their teachers from 11-4pm in the Barber Institute. If you are currently deciding whether studying History of Art at University is really for you, come along and give it a try! You’ll be able to get a real feel for what it’s like to study History of Art, through a series of mini lectures, seminars, and gallery sessions on subjects including Botticelli, Damien Hirst, women artists, and cinema and art. You will also have the opportunity to meet current students and staff, find out about careers an Art History degree can lead to, and obtain useful tips for your UCAS application! Lunch is provided but registration is essential.

Already at Brum? Well, the same day you can take part in a writing workshop with Barber writer-in-residence, Jacqui Rowe. Sonic Visions takes place in the Lady Barber Gallery where visual works will be interpreted as music, and you can experiment with mixing the senses in prose and poetry. Tickets are £6 or £4 for concessions and students.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the same evening sees the Barber Mixer event for new and returning students. If you’re (re)joining us in September, make sure that you come along to the Barber at 7pm to meet like-minded arts lovers, course-mates, academics and Barber staff. There will be live music, art activities (including commissioned portraits), drinks, pizza and art society stalls – all for a fiver! Keep an eye out on Facebook about getting your ticket.

Moving into October,the Digbeth Speaks oral histories project launches its exhibition on 3rd. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund Digbeth Speaks has created a time capsule of contemporary Digbeth, an area of inner city Birmingham, during 2013. The project has been devised and led by young members of the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage, Library of Birmingham. Many of the dedicated team of young volunteers comprise postgraduate students and alumni from the University of Birmingham, including our own Carly Hegenbarth!

Digbeth speaks file

A bit later in the month, on the 16th at 7.30pm, world-renowned choir The Sixteen come to the Barber. Their concert will feature some of the best-loved classics of Tudor and Jacobean church music together with madrigals by Tallis, Byrd and Gibbons, alongside pieces by Britten, Tippett and MacMillan including the ‘Five Spirituals’ from A Child of Our Time and the ‘Choral Dances’ from Gloriana.


Birmingham University Singers will feature, alongside The Sixteen, in a performance of Chilcott’s Tallis Canon. For more information see here.

This year, Birmingham is home to the seventh Cine Excess international film conference and festival which brings together leading film scholars and cult film makers. The theme of this year’s conference is European Erotic Cinema: Identity, Desire and Disgust and events are organised in conjunction with the University’s newly-formed B-Film (Birmingham Centre for Film Studies) and the Midlands Arts Centre, which is hosting the event from 15-17 November. Cine-Excess VII considers Europe’s long and controversial relationship with the erotic image, considering the extent to which cult European traditions of desire reveal fascinating issues of nation and regional distinction.

Cine Excess

Wondering what you might do with your History of Art degree? On Wednesday 20th November we are holding our Careers Day (2-5pm) where you’ll have the opportunity to hear from graduates of our department talking about their career paths and current jobs. Speakers will include staff from the Wallace Collection in London, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, and Matt Carey-Williams, director of the White Cube Gallery. More information to follow soon!

The end of November (30th) sees the opening of BMAG’s Photorealism exhibition – the first and largest European retrospective of this highly realistic painting genre. Photorealism begin in America in the late 1960s with artists painting realistic depictions of everyday objects and scenes like cars, highways and diners which, at first glance, appear to be photographs, like this example by Birmingham-born artist John Salt.

John Salt, White Chevy, 1975

John Salt, White Chevy, 1975

The exhibition features work by photorealist artists from the 60s to the present, including John Salt, Chuck Close, and Peter Maier and explores the questions and debates raised by the movement on what makes an authentic image and the ways in which we perceive the world.

Phew…that takes us nearly up until the Christmas holidays, so we’ll stop there while the sun is still shining and the evenings are still long (at least at the time of writing)! But keep an eye on The Golovine and our Facebook page for more updates – there are bound to be some Christmas-related festivities to announce!

My first 12 months as an art historian at Birmingham by Georgia Levine

It's not all hard work being a fresher...

It’s not all hard work being a fresher…

I have just completed my first year studying History of Art here in Birmingham. I was surprised how quickly I befriended my course-mates, acquired skills relevant to my degree, and became comfortable both on this attractive campus and in the Barber Institute in particular.

The course is based in the Barber Institute, the University’s own art gallery. Attending lectures and seminars in the Barber enhances the university experience since we share the building with visitors who come to visit the gallery and enjoy music concerts and regular academic talks. The Barber’s resources provide stimulating academic opportunities that are available at few other universities in the UK!

The small size of the department and the group projects we undertook in our modules allowed my course-mates and I to get to know one another much more quickly than our friends on courses in other departments. We also became quickly acquainted with our lecturers! The course includes both group and individual presentations which has developed my confidence and has helped to form friendships within our year group.

First year course modules are structured to give a wide-ranging introduction to Art History. They range from teaching us about historical developments, such as the evolving concept of the artist and the academies, to the most successful ways in which to curate an exhibition and to conserve and restore paintings, sculptures and artworks in other media. Such a varied choice of topics covered throughout the year has given me the chance to learn more about my favourite art styles and periods and become more familiar with artists and concepts that I had not previously understood such as Clive Bell’s treatise, ‘The Aesthetic Hypothesis’ which discusses the concept of aesthetic emotion experienced by the spectator of an artwork.

The workload has most definitely been manageable, problems only ever arising when I found myself drawn into fresher-related distractions! Bar crawls around Harborne and nights out on Broad Street certainly diverted many a fresher’s head in the first few weeks (ok, all year long) from course-related work! Whenever I did have concerns I felt comfortable approaching my lecturers, the student reps and also the post-grads by whom we were lucky enough to be taught for a number of our seminars. The post-grads are extremely easy to discuss work with as they sympathised with our workload, assignments and, sometimes, confusion as we learned to follow certain academic writing styles and study methods, besides trying to grasp often complex theories and ideas.

The collection displayed in the Barber gallery, which is just upstairs from the seminar rooms and lecture theatre, is a great resource that allows us to analyse artworks up-close. I have also wandered up there in my spare-time to fully appreciate works of widely different genres and periods ranging from rare Renaissance works such as Simone Martini’s egg-tempera painting of St John the Evangelist, to my personal favourite, the Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Young Woman Seated. I appreciate the ease and frequency with which I can see and study such illustrious works of art.

Simone Martini, St. John the Evangelist, 1320, Barber Institute

Simone Martini, St. John the Evangelist, 1320, Barber Institute

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Young Woman Seated, 1876-77, Barber Institute

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Young Woman Seated, 1876-77, Barber Institute

I was also fortunate enough to grab the chance to work as a gallery assistant for the Barber gallery over a period of four months. I became more familiar with the layout, and learnt useful, contextual, knowledge of both temporary and permanent exhibitions. I also took advantage of opportunities to give workshops that were available for children at the weekends, volunteering to help them with hands-on art-related activities. Working closely with the gallery staff has also allowed me to tap into their knowledge, experience and contacts. The whole experience has given me a fascinating insight into the workings of a gallery, besides boosting my CV!

During my first year we also visited other Birmingham-based galleries including BMAG and MAC to learn more about curatorship and exhibition layout which we all found immensely helpful. We appreciated the opportunity to gain practical knowledge and hands-on experience, on top of our always-increasing theoretical knowledge.

Overall, my experience as a first year art history student at Birmingham has been a mixture of nervous anticipation as well as an excitement about learning new things and meeting new people. But our fresher bewilderment was always smoothed out by approachable lecturers and older students who made themselves available to alleviate any of our (sometimes nutty, sometimes more understandable) concerns! I have truly enjoyed my first year studying the History of Art, becoming familiar with the Barber Institute and its staff, and learning how I can develop skills I already possess to advance further in the art world and university life in general.


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