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Christ’s Passion in art from the Barber Institute

Ahead of the Easter weekend, here’s some of the key moments from the story of Christ’s Passion told using works of art from the collection of the Barber Institute.

Marinali Man of Sorrows

This sculpted marble relief shows the Man of Sorrows. It was made by Orazio Marinali (1643 – 1720), who was one of the leading sculptors in Vicenza near Venice in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The subject of the Man of Sorrows doesn’t actually derive from the New Testament descriptions of Christ’s arrest, suffering and crucifixion which constitute the Passion story proper. Instead, the subject comes from the Old Testament, chiefly Isaiah, who foretold of the coming of a sinless man who will atone the sins of mankind, writing (Ch.53): ‘He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is thus considered a prefiguration (a prediction, of sorts) of Christ’s ministry and ultimate Passion. And out of Isaiah’s prophecy developed the Man of Sorrows iconography, which typically exhibits precisely the characteristics that we find here in Marinali’s relief: a half- or bust-length image of Christ that is closely cropped, showing him looking grief-stricken, sometimes crying (as in here) and wearing evidence of his suffering including the crown of thorns (as in here).

The Barber doesn’t own a representations of the the Last Supper (when Christ announced his upcoming death to his disciples, one of whom would betray him), or the moment when Christ was arrested following Judas’s betrayal. And so we move on to the subject of the Crowning with Thorns.

Crowning with Thorns

‘And platting a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand. And bowing the knee before him, they mocked him, saying: Hail, King of the Jews.’ (Matthew 27:29) Following Christ’s arrest and having been sentenced to death by Pilate, Christ was taken into a hall by Roman soldiers who draped him in a purple robe, placed a crown of thorns on his head and a reed in his right hand (in lieu of a scepter), and then bowed in mock veneration of Christ. This is precisely what’s going on in the above etching by Luigi Pellegrino Scaramuccia (1616-1680), which was made after Titian’s painting of the same subject that is now in the Louvre.

van Dyck Ecce Homo

Anthony van Dyck’s Ecce Homo was painted at some time between 1621 and ’27 for the noble Balbi family of Genoa. Here van Dyck has also deployed the Man of Sorrows iconography, but this time an episode from the New Testament accounts of Christ’s Passion is illustrated. According to John, following the crowning with thorns, Pilate led Christ out to show him to the people, remarking: ‘Behold the Man’, which in Latin is ‘Ecce Homo‘ (John 19:5). Following this humiliation, Christ was given his cross and processed to Golgotha to be crucified.

Mellan Sudarium

When Christ was carrying the cross on the road to his crucifixion, St. Veronica wiped Jesus’s face using a cloth, on to which there miraculously appeared an image of Christ’s face (hence Veronica’s attribute the sudarium, or “sweat-cloth”, which you often find Veronica holding in depictions of the Carrying of the Cross, or see below for Veronica holding her sudarium on the outside shutter of a triptych). It’s Veronica’s sudarium that Claude Mellan (1598 – 1688) represented in the above engraving. With the rise of print publishing in the 16th century, Veronica’s sudarium became a remarkably popular subject in the printed media, which could be put up in the home as relatively cheap, but compelling, aids to devotion, intended to remind the viewer of Christ’s suffering and death. Mellan’s engraving is an example of this. However, Mellan also pays homage to himself: ‘FORMATVS VNICVS VNA’, the inscription on the bottom of the sheet, translates as ‘the one formed in one’, which is a pun on the uniqueness of Christ, the uniqueness of Veronica’s miraculous image, and, in turn, Mellan’s virtuoso skills, since this entire engraving is made up of a single unbroken line.

Memling Crucifixion

Golgotha, “the place of the skull”, is where Christ was eventually crucified and is represented here in a small painting that is attributed to the circle of Hans Memling (c.1430-94). Behind Christ we see Jerusalem, to his right a man in black who is shown kneeling in prayer (this is actually a donor portrait, so a portrait of the person who commissioned the picture). On a hill in the background, meanwhile, we find a miniature representation of the Agony in the Garden, when, following the Last Supper, Christ took himself off with 3 disciples to a garden at Gethsemane where he prayed to God to be spared from suffering and during which an angel consoled Christ (although there is no angel here); this type of mashing-together of chronologically separate episodes into one picture is a phenomenon referred to as simultaneous representation. Inscribed on the little plaque on the top of the crucifix are the initials ‘I. N. R. I.’, which are the initials for Jesus’s Latin title that Pilate had put up on the cross: “Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm.”

Circle of Rogier, Deposition

Attributed to a follower of Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400 – 1464), this triptych (three adjoining panels; the image on the left shows the triptych open, the one on the right the triptych when it’s closed) represents on its inside middle panel the Descent from the Cross, when Christ’s dead body was lowered from the crucifix. On the interior wings, meanwhile, there are 2 further examples of Old Testament prefigurations of Christ’s death: on the left Adam and Eve are shown mourning their son Abel, who was the first human ever to die having been murdered by his jealous brother, Cain; on the right it’s Jacob and Rachel being shown their son Joseph’s bloody coat, which his envious siblings had doused in a goat’s blood to make believe that Joseph had been killed, whereas in reality they’d sold him off as a slave. On the outside shutters, two female saints are shown in semi-grisaille (monochrome grey painting, and semi- in this case because their flesh is flesh-coloured): on the left is Helena, who recovered the True Cross and, on the right, Veronica with the sudarium. Altogether, then, this triptych not only rehearses the story of Christ’s redemption of mankind, but has a special emphasis on notable women and female mourning, which inevitably leads to speculation that the triptych was commissioned by a (grieving?) woman (or an organisation of women – for a convent?).


Finally, we return to the iconography of the Man of Sorrows in the above bronze relief, cast by an anonymous Italian artist at some point in the 16th century. The main scene shows Christ being held at his tomb by the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist as well as a few angels; emaciated, with his rib cage exposed, this image is a grisly reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. In the arched pediment at the top of the tabernacle, however, is a small image that hits home at the heart of the Easter story: the resurrected Christ, who rises from his tomb with his right hand raised in blessing, affirming for the viewer that because of Christ they also can hope for resurrection and salvation.



As a trainee curator at Wolverhampton Art Gallery I was invited to the spring season launch at the gallery on Friday, for the opening of the New Art West Midlands 2014 and BP Portrait Award 2013 exhibitions. (Look out for a future post about my internship, including my involvement in the BP Portrait Award exhibition.) To mark the occasion of the opening of these two new and exciting exhibitions the gallery hosted some live music, a congratulatory handing out of arts awards certificates to young artists associated with the gallery and visitors were even treated to watching a few artists, including Adrian Clamp who as well as being an artist is one of the gallery’s facilitators, create portraits on the spot. The event was a successful celebration of art, its local engagement and its power to enrich communities.

New Art West Midlands 2014 presents innovative new work from artists who have recently graduated from art schools in the region. The exhibition incorporates paintings, sculptures and films that display a range of artistic approaches and influences. At Wolverhampton Art Gallery the exhibition includes the work of seven female artists, so what a great idea to plan a visit for International Women’s Day on Saturday 8th March!

New Art West Midlands runs until 10th May at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 27th April at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 18th May at BMAG and 15th March at Grand Union.

Anna Smith, Torso, ceramic sculpture.

Anna Smith, Torso, ceramic sculpture.

Wendy Ann Titmus, ‘Hands’ and ‘Feet’, beeswax.

Wendy Ann Titmus, ‘Hands’ and ‘feet’, beeswax.

Sharon Farrelly, Babs, mixed media on canvas.

Sharon Farrelly, Babs, mixed media on canvas.

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Check out the previous post about the New Art West Midlands BMAG private view here.

For more information visit the New Art West Midlands Website


New Art West Midlands @ BMAG

Works from the region’s best art graduates were unveiled at the Birmingham Musem and Art Gallery on Thursday 13th February.

A few of us were invited to the private view where we sampled the very best from the West Midland’s  contemporary art  scene, whilst sneaking a cheeky look at the  Grayson Perry tapestries!

IMG_0550[1]            IMG_0551[1] IMG_0554[1]          IMG_0556[1] IMG_0557[1]                 IMG_0558[1] IMG_0559[1]             IMG_0561[1] IMG_0563[1]               IMG_0565[1]   IMG_0567[1]

New Art West Midlands runs until 27th April at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 18th May at BMAG, 15th March at Grand Union and 10th May at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Grayson Perry tapestries arrive


One of our History of Art MA graduates, Katie Hall has blogged about the arrival of the Grayson Perry tapestries at BMAG – we’ve shared her post here.

Originally posted on Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery:

Grayson Perry’s tapestry series ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ arrived from Manchester Art Gallery on Tuesday. The only way to move the very long crates into the museum was by carrying them in through the front doors and up the stairs. Hard work as you can see from the pictures! They’re all safely here now and we can’t wait to hang the tapestries with the Arts Council Collection next week.

Unloaded the Grayson Perry tapestries from the lorry

Carrying the Grayson Perry tapestries up the stairs  The Grayson Perry tapestries arrive through the main entrance doors

To find out more about ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ tapestries you can also download the Grayson Perry app (£1.99 from the app store). This lets you see the tapestries up-close and listen to Grayson Perry talking about each one, exploring the symbolism and making of the works. It’s a fascinating insight into the artist’s thinking.

We’ll also be installing the Grayson Perry pot in our collection, ‘Who Am I?’, and the fabrics that he designed for…

View original 69 more words

Happy New Year: drinkers and drunkards (and a barmaid) in art

We’d like to wish all you Golovine readers out there a very Happy New Year!

Just for a bit of fun and to get us all in the party mood, we’ve put together a little selection of drinkers and drunkards in art. My personal fave of the bunch is Gerrit van Honthorst’s decidedly merry-looking chap in his Happy Violinist. Enjoy:

Giovanni Bellini, Drunkenness of Noah, c.1515, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie, Besançon

Giovanni Bellini, Drunkenness of Noah, c.1515, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie, Besançon

Michelangelo’s (drunkenly-teetering) Bacchus (the God of wine), 1496-97, marble, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

Michelangelo Bacchus

And an ancient version of the same… (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

Ancient, Bacchus

Walter Geikie, Drunken Man, c.1835, etching, NG Scotland

Geikie, Drunken Man

Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, Drunken Satyr, 1532-33, marble, Art Museum, St. Louis

Montorsoli, Satyr

Adriaen Brouwer, Drunken Peasant in a Tavern, c.1624, oil on panel, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Brouwer, Drunken Peasant

Andrea Pisano, Drunkenness of Noah, 1336-43, marble, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence

Pisano, Drunkenness of Noah

Hans von Aachen, Self-Portrait with a glass of wine, c.1596, oil on canvas (whereabouts unknown…)

Aachen, Wine drinker

Unknown Portuguese Master, Man with a glass of wine, c.1450, oil on panel, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Unknown Portuguese Master

Gabriel Metsu, The Tippler, 1655-57, oil on wood, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Metsu, The Tippler

Jan van Bijlert, Young man drinking a glass of wine, 1635-40, oil on canvas (whereabouts unknown)

Bijlert, Man with a glass of wine

Ferdinand Bol, Governors of the Wine Merchant’s Guild, oil on canvas, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Bol, Wine merchant's guild

Gerrit van Honthorst, The happy Violinist with a glass of wine, c.1624, oil on canvas, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Honthorst, Violinist

Pieter de Hooch, Man offering a woman a glass of wine, c.1653, oil on panel, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Hooch, man offering wine

William Hogarth, Gin Lane, 1750-51, etching and engraving, various collections

Hogarth, Gin Lane

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Peasant Dance, about 1567, oil on panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Bruegel, Wedding Dance

Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-82, oil on canvas, Courtauld Institute, London

Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Adriaen Jansz. van Ostade, Peasants drinking and making music in a barn, c.1635, oil on panel (whereabouts unknown)

Ostade, peasants Drinking

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-93, oil on canvas, Art Institute, Chicago

Lautrec, Moulin Rouge

Sebald Beham, Large Peasant Kermis, 1535, woodcut, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (left side)

Beham, Large kermis

Sometimes research can be a matter of chance…one of our lecturers shares a moment of serendipity

As I often find myself explaining to students, quite a lot of the time research consists of a great deal of trawling through library catalogues, books, articles and archives looking for that small clue that will help you to craft a focused argument. I admit, it can be a painful process and sometimes your carefully-collected list of sources to consult turns up a disappointing dearth of information: that book with the exciting-sounding title is in fact on a period two hundred years later than your own, or the article you thought would be key is disappointingly bad. It can, sometimes, be easy to lose heart as the piles of photocopies grow but the Holy Grail that will clinch your argument apparently lies on the other side of an abyss worthy of an Indiana Jones movie…

VGA capture

…and this is where you need to take a leaf out of Indie’s book and believe, because, apart from hard slog, one of the other features of research is serendipity. And this can occur in all sorts of ways and places. Never, for instance, underestimate the importance of the parents who brought you into the world, tenderly nurtured you, sent you off to university with boxes of tea bags and became slowly bemused by what it is you actually do while you’re there…Yet your attempt to engage your parents in the finer details of your dissertation might just pay off. Two weeks ago, for instance, I got an email from my father with a link to Christie’s auction house. ‘I spotted this in the Guardian and wondered if you’d seen it?’ The link was to a tiny manuscript, measuring just 95 x 60mm and illuminated by the Master of Claude of France, so-called for his other jewel-like prayer books created for Claude, Queen of France, in the early sixteenth century. My dad has clearly learnt something from his daughter’s obsession with medieval women and their manuscripts.

Lot 56, Christie's Rare Books and Manuscripts Sale, 20 November 2013

Lot 56, Christie’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Sale, 20 November 2013

Queen Claude (1499-1524) and her younger sister Renée (1510-1575) were themselves the daughters of the French king and queen, Louis XII and Anne of Brittany. Anne seemingly had a penchant for miniscule books, one of which is preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (BnF, NAL, 3120). The Très Petites Heures (65 x 40 mm) is a book of hours, that most popular of medieval books which consists of a series of daily prayers and accompanying illustrations. The Très Petites Heures includes Anne’s emblems at what might be considered strategic places in a manuscript made for a queen and mother of the heirs to the French kingdom: the Visitation, for instance, and the Virgin’s Coronation.

Visitation, Très Petites Heures of Anne of Brittany (BnF, nal 3120)

Visitation, Très Petites Heures of Anne of Brittany (BnF, nal 3120)

This penchant for small books she passed on to her daughter Claude, whose own prayer book, now in the Pierpont Morgan library in New York is similarly petit (69 x 49 mm), as is its companion book of hours, now in a private collection (84 x 55mm). Claude’s books are lavishly illuminated and chock-full of her symbols, like the cordelière, the knotted cord motif that she inherited from her mother. The prayer book’s miniatures of the Annunciation and the Virgin and Child include Claude’s coat of arms in the bas-de-page which, as with the Visitation and Coronation scenes in her mother’s Très Petites Heures, surely drew attention to Claude’s role as queen and mother.

Annunciation, Prayer book of Claude of France (Pierpont Morgan Library, MS. 1166)

Annunciation, Prayer book of Claude of France (Pierpont Morgan Library, MS. 1166)

Claude’s short life was spent fulfilling her maternal duty. She gave birth to seven children, only two of whom survived beyond their teens, before dying at just 24 years of age. Her sister Renée, who lived until she was 65, fared somewhat better, although her marriage to Ercolo d’Este, son of the duke of Ferrara, was a political arrangement by Francis I to aid his cause against the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Renée’s books, however, were less long-lived: victims of her sympathy for religious reform, many of them were destroyed or burnt during the Inquisition before which she herself had to appear.

One of her books did survive, her Petites Prières (though not quite as small as her mother’s and sister’s volumes at relatively large 122 x 88 mm), and in one of the miniatures it shows Renée in direct communion with Christ, an important theme of the Reformation.

Renée of France in prayer before Christ, Petites Prières (formerly Bibliotheca Estensa, Modena)

Renée of France in prayer before Christ, Petites Prières (formerly Bibliotheca Estensa, Modena)

Yet this manuscript was stolen from the Bibliotheca Estensa in Modena in the mid-nineties, though not before a facsimile was made, thankfully. So, when my father’s email popped into my inbox and I began perusing the catalogue description, I was particularly excited to see that the manuscript up for sale was not only by Claude’s favourite illuminator but that it was also being associated with Renée. Furthermore, it was completely unknown to manuscript aficionados: it was put on the market by a noble Scottish family, in whose possession it had been since it had been given to them as a gift by Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, daughter of the Prince Regent, later George IV, in early nineteenth century. This information was enough reason to do some last-minute rearranging so that I could squeeze in a day-return to Christie’s before it went under the hammer with an estimate of £500,000-£800,000.

At Christie’s in King Street, in the rare books and manuscripts viewing room, the manuscript was removed from its glass case and simply handed over to me and my colleague (whose day-return from Paris was slightly more expensive than, though just as quick as, my ticket from Birmingham) to peruse, photograph, and marvel over. Apart from the royal associations of the artist and the manuscript’s size, the evidence for a connection with Renée was perhaps compelling rather than definitive. A prayer in the female voice and the inclusion of the Hours of the Conception of the Virgin would imply a secular woman owner and the facing-page prayers to St Louis and St Anne, patron saints of Renée’s parents in the suffrages, as well as the inclusion of St Renatus (aka René) certainly bring Renée to mind.

Lot 56 (25)

St Anne

Lot 56 (21)

St Louis of France

There are also cordelière line fillers scattered throughout the manuscript. These are less evident than in Claude’s prayer book where they frame every page but are perhaps another indication of an association with Renée. Either way, this manuscript is clearly an important new find which will no doubt prove an important factor in the research that my colleague and I are currently conducting into manuscripts and books owned by Claude and the women in her entourage.

On Wednesday 20 November, this tiny book went under the auctioneer’s hammer and met its estimate, selling for £500,000. Often such gems emerge from one private collection to be bought by another private collector, meaning that their appearance in public and thus opportunities for study are relatively brief. Thus it can often feel like serendipity when a manuscript surfaces and you find yourself in the right place at the right time…okay, so I had to engineer being in the right place by drawing on the good will of a colleague who took my first year class while I raced off to London and on the good will of those first year students who, I hope, will indulge me when I show them the pictures…but still…

Sometimes things just come together and as my colleague and I walked from Christie’s down towards Trafalgar Square, a statue of George III wrapped up in hat and scarf for the cold weather gave us an additional reason to smile…as did the enormous blue chicken currently gracing the fourth plinth.

George III by Matthew Cotes Wyatt (1836), Cockspur Street

Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch, 2013

Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch, 2013

And then, as we looped back and mooched through Horse Guards Parade and under the Arch onto Whitehall, we came across a group of tourists literally getting under the feet of members of the Household Cavalry as the mounted sentries changed over. Not quite the Trooping of the Colour but despite growing up in London I’m not sure I’d ever seen the red-caped and shiny-helmeted soldiers on anything other than postcards.

The Household Cavalry

The Household Cavalry

I wouldn’t call myself a royalist but then I had spent the day pouring over a manuscript with British, and supposedly French, royal connections so happening upon such a typically royal custom in action seemed like a fittingly serendipitous end to the day.

So if you are struggling with a research topic my advice is to hang in there, as you never know what will turn up. And, like us, you may find that your Holy Grail is a lot more interesting to look at than the one Indiana Jones chose so wisely!

Dr Elizabeth L’Estrange is the author of Holy Motherhood: Gender, Dynasty and Visual Culture in the Later Middle Ages and is currently working on a study of one of Queen Claude’s ladies-in-waiting, Anne de Graville. You can find out more about her obsession with medieval manuscripts here.

One to see over Christmas vacation: Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm at Tate Britain. By Lauren Dudley

Art Under Attack!

For the last couple of years I’ve been part of an AHRC-funded Iconoclasms network, led by Leslie Brubaker and Richard Clay (University of Birmingham). Regular Golovine readers might remember my post about our last network meeting at the University of Notre Dame. At the beginning of October 2013 the network met in London to attend the opening of the exhibition Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm at Tate Britain.

In the exhibition it was amazing to finally see the objects that the co-curators Tabitha Barber and Stacy Boldrick had shown us on power-point slides in previous workshops and to walk through considering them in relation to the wider histories and cultures of iconoclasm that we have explored as part of the network.

The exhibition is the first to deal with the subject of British iconoclasm and it has attracted a fair amount of intrigue and discussion. Art Under Attack shows that iconoclasm can take varied forms, that objects and images do not provoke attacks, but that political, social and religious change or periods of unrest have been the catalysts for many acts of destruction, and, importantly, it highlights the strong bond between iconoclasm and creativity in Britain.

Penelope Curtis, the director of Tate Britain, has noted in the foreword to the exhibition catalogue that the earliest work at Tate dates from 1545, defining the collection as post-Reformation. Iconoclasm existed in Britain long before the Reformation, but in terms of Tate’s collection it is a significant moment from which to historicise the subject in Art Under Attack. Naturally, the exhibition begins with the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. At this time, Protestant Reformers feared that people adored religious statues and paintings instead of God, committing the sin of idolatry. Thus, during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I images in churches were removed or damaged. In the exhibition, surviving headless statues from churches, as well as saints scratched out from altar paintings might signify to modern British viewers our ‘lost’ medieval cultural heritage, but which, for post-Reformation England, were reminders of the sinful idolatry of the past.

The Reformation had a radical impact on visual culture in Britain and subsequent image production was informed by this period of destruction. Art Under Attack includes examples of seventeenth-century reformers replacing the visual images that had formerly decorated churches with words from the Bible, while campaigns of destruction escalated. The earlier examples of iconoclasm in the exhibition are presented in terms of religious reform and they were sanctioned by the state, while exhibits relating to attacks from the late seventeenth to twentieth centuries are typified by political upheaval. Representations of political figures have been attacked throughout history, often in response to, or as a precursor of actual political change. The struggle for independence in Ireland led to many equestrian statues of British monarchs being melted down or destroyed. Interestingly, the eighteenth-century statue of George I standing outside the Barber Institute escaped a similar fate when the Dublin-born director Thomas Bodkin bought it in 1937, transforming it from a political symbol in its original setting in Dublin to a work of art in its new home in Birmingham.

The art gallery is a place in which the visitor can revere images. In this way, it seems less surprising that in the early twentieth century Suffragettes attacked paintings in public galleries. Mary Richardson slashed Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus, angered by the idolising of this painting while Emmeline Pankhurst’s suffering was ignored. Responses to the attack in the press further outraged the Suffragettes because the damage done to an inanimate object was mourned, yet women continued to be ostracised. Therefore, further attacks on paintings were carried out. The exhibition shows a photographic reproduction of the slashed Rokeby Venus, while the original painting hangs in the National Gallery as an iconic, intact image with a crowd of visitors in front of it. Other paintings, such as Pre-Raphaelite works that were attacked by Suffragettes and subsequently restored, are included in the exhibition and their presence as unbroken objects is a visual surprise after seeing so many fragments and clearly transformed images. As a result, we can understand the outrage that the attacks would have caused – after all, they are inoffensive, typically beautiful paintings. This is a thought-provoking stage in the exhibition that resonates with recent attacks on works of art, it does not justify such attacks but it allows us to consider the act of iconoclasm as a form of expression, rather than only focusing on the work targeted. In the case of the Suffragettes, this was a desperate time in which their freedom of expression was restricted. Perhaps the difficult question raised is whether works of art are targeted solely to attract publicity. In any case, historically, the media has played a significant role in how we perceive such attacks.

Following on from the section dedicated to the Suffragettes, the focus remains on the public art gallery as a site of iconoclasm by exploring works that have been attacked by individuals who were seemingly offended by what those works represented, or whose outrage was caused by the fact that public money was used to purchase those works. Ironically, in their reviews for Art Under Attack, some art critics show sympathy for the acid attack on Allen Jones’s Chair because they do not like the sculpture, and yet, those same critics disparage Mary Richardson’s attack on Velazquez’s painting. The exhibition questions responses to iconoclasm in public galleries, which, regardless of the motive, judge the attack in relation to the supposed value of the object, be it aesthetic, cultural, financial, or otherwise. There is a clear divide in responses to attacks on historical works and those on works by living artists. Therefore, it is not surprising that some critics have responded negatively to the contemporary works in Art Under Attack.

The latter sections of the exhibition are focused on aesthetics, beginning with post-war artistic responses and theories. In the case of the ‘Destruction in Art Symposium’, artists created socially and politically engaged auto-destructive art. These artists were influenced by iconoclasts and they explored the creative force of destruction, which, in turn, has inspired the next generation of artists whose works are shown in the last room of the exhibition. The visitor’s journey through 500 years of British iconoclasm started with destruction in religious sites and ends in the space of the art gallery, which is a contested sphere for image-makers and -breakers. The exhibition draws to a close with Jake and Dinos Chapman’s series One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved – nineteenth-century portraits whose depicted sitters have been altered by the Chapman brothers to appear as decaying, like their actual bodies. The original paintings had been sold off and due to the age of the paintings we can deduce that the sitters have been dead for quite some time, and therefore, were no longer loved as people or paintings. The Chapmans’ iconoclastic approach unsettles many viewers and, I think, within the parameters of the exhibition, their series points to the quasi-sacred value of works of art, therefore, revealing why acts of iconoclasm are so disturbing. Art lovers, particularly art critics and even some art institutions have been troubled by the idea of an exhibition about iconoclasm; perhaps that fear can be compared to the Protestant Reformers who destroyed images to protect religious worship. Contemporary artists and subversive curators are a threat to the established order of idolised aesthetic beauty, so their critics attack them with words.

In my view, the exhibition is brilliant because it challenges the viewer by scrutinising key moments in British history and questioning traditional representations of them, as well as positioning the art gallery within the history of British iconoclasm. Art Under Attack shows that people have always destroyed images and objects, and always will, but it encourages us to think about the discussions that take place afterwards, the myths created and the rationalising of the motives. My opinion is of course biased so I encourage readers to see the exhibition and make up your own mind.

Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm, Tate Britain, London is on until 5th January 2014. And what’s more, if tickets are ordered online between now and the 23rd December, then you can get them at the discounted price of £10 (use promo code christmas2013 on the bookings page).

Curating Art History – Call for Papers

Every year in the Summer semester, the Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies puts on a colloquium in conjunction with the Journal of Art Historiographywhich is affiliated with the Department.

This year’s colloquium, which is taking place on the 7th and 8th May 2014, will address the relationships that exist between, on the one hand, academic art historians and, on the other, museum professionals, and aims to consider how art history as a discipline affects curatorial practices, and vice versa, how curatorial practices can affect art history. In particular the colloquium seeks to explore how innovative museum and gallery curating can impact on the kinds of objects that are usually deemed to fall under the remit of art history and, on the flip-side, what is usually excluded. Can innovative curatorial practices break down the conventional boundaries that have been thought to exist between “fine art” and “material culture”, for example?

The colloquium is being organised by postgraduate students from the Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies and Dr. Camilla Smith, and there is still time to submit proposals for papers for consideration. The deadline for receipt of abstracts for papers of 300 words is Thursday 19th December 2013. Abstracts should include title, contact details and affiliation and be sent by email to

Curating Art History

The Art History careers afternoon by Holly Wain

Last Wednesday, the 20th November, saw the History of Art careers afternoon. Current students like myself were invited to listen to a series of talks from UoB Art History alumni. These were Edwina Mileham, who now works at the Wallace Collection in London, Katie Hall, who is now at the BMAG, Carrie Woodrow, who works at the Sotheby’s Institute, Kaylee Jenkinson who works for Manchester’s Craft and Design Centre, and, finally, the dynamic Matt Carey-Williams, who graduated in the 1990s with a degree in English and the History of Art and is now the sales director at the White Cube Gallery in London. As well as all of that, there was also an opportunity to have a more informal chat over tea and biscuits.

Careers afternoon

As a final year student I was extremely pleased to hear that there was a careers event taking place. I found the talks generally very informative and they addressed a wide range of sectors in the world of art and culture, showing that there really are lots of opportunities out there for graduates with a degree in Art History from Birmingham. Edwina Mileham from the Wallace gave a good overview of the different sections of a museum, which gave me a new perspective on the types of jobs that are available. I’d never really considered the role of fundraising in museums, for example. Katie Hall meanwhile gave some useful tips about the different opportunities that are available at the University of Birmingham itself, which I had not really heard about before. These include the Research and Cultural Collections, which offers loads of opportunities for students to get involved, as well as the Cultural Internship scheme. The latter of these offers successful applicants a six-month paid placement with a leading cultural institution in the West Midlands region (and you can read about Art History student Lauren Dudley’s Cultural Internship placement with the BMAG here!).

Other useful tips came from Kaylee Jenkinson from the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, who told us all about her vast range of volunteering experience and its relevance to securing work in the arts sector. I think I will definitely follow her advice to document everything that you get up to as a volunteer, as a student and beyond, because it makes filling-out applications in the future that little bit easier! Carrie Woodrow from the Sotheby’s Institute gave me an insight into the internship process and how it can set you in good stead for the next post that comes up. She also gave us some good websites for finding internships in the arts sector such as Ideas Tap.

The final speaker, Matt Carey-Williams from the White Cube Gallery gave us a humorous and often warts-and-all style account of finding a career in the arts. Even though I do not want to go into a career at an auction house or a commercial gallery–although it does sound remarkably glamorous and exiting–, I was still able to draw some general advice from the talk. For example, he specified some of the best skills to demonstrate in an application, such as a keen willingness to work and determination, and conversely, what to avoid: “I do not need you to tell me that you have been complemented on your ability to exercise common sense . . .”, he says (half-jokingly, half-seriously, I think).

In all, I found the Careers event really helpful in matching my thoughts on careers to the reality of careers the art world. There were some great tips from the inside and over an informal chat I was able to get some great personal guidance.

Getting a Taste for Art History – finalist Nelle Jervis reports on our Sixth Form Study Day

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts - home of the Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts – home of the Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies

On Saturday 28th September, the Barber Institute opened its doors to welcome a group of prospective undergraduate students to experience a taster day – ‘Art History at University and Beyond’ – to see what University of Birmingham’s department of History of Art, Film and Visual Cultures has to offer them. The sixth form students had the opportunity to be History of Art students for the day and take part in mini seminars and lectures to see what a great and exciting department we have to offer them!

After a welcome by the Admissions Tutor, Dr Elizabeth L’Estrange, the day began with a lecture given by David Hemsoll on Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and was followed by a lecture from Dr Alex Marlow- Mann on ‘Film as Art: The Last Days of Pompeii’. Both lectures, although on very different topics, suggested how artists and film makers referred to well-known works or visual traditions as a way of appealing to a particular audience. Later in the day, Professor Matthew Rampley gave a lecture entitled ‘The Artist as Entrepreneur: Damien Hirst’ in which he argued that Hirst’s artistic practice – often vilified in the press – in fact draws on and references more classical artistic genres and scientific traditions like still life and collecting. All three lectures were an opportunity for the students to see the diversity of subjects which the course has to offer and also to get a feel for what it is like to attend a real lecture at the University of Birmingham in the Barber Institute.

Poster for Last Days of Pompeii, 1913

Poster for Last Days of Pompeii, 1913

Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1486, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1486, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Following the morning’s lectures the students took part in two mini seminars, one with Dr Elizabeth L’Estrange on ‘Women and Art’ and the other with PhD student Jamie Edwards on ‘Paintings as Objects’, upstairs in the Barber Gallery.

In the ‘Women in Art’ seminar the students were presented with two Impressionist paintings showing a woman in front of a mirror and were told that one was painted by a man and the other by a woman.

Berthe Morisot, Lady at her Toilette, 1875/1880, Art Institute of Chicago

Berthe Morisot, Lady at her Toilette, 1875/1880, Art Institute of Chicago

Edouard Manet, Woman in Front of a Mirror, 1877, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Edouard Manet, Woman in Front of a Mirror, 1877, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

The students were asked to discuss in groups if they could tell who painted which picture. The groups were divided, leading to an open discussion about whether it is possible to tell whether a painting reveals the sex of its painter, and about the position women have occupied in art history. Although this was an unfamiliar area to some, everyone showed an interest and got involved in the debate.

In the ‘Paintings as Objects’ seminar in the Barber Gallery the students were each given extracts from Cennino Cennini’s fifteenth-century Craftsman’s Handbook to read. These extracts describe how a Renaissance painter should prepare a panel for painting, and advice on how to paint drapery. The students had the opportunity to read the extracts and discuss it in front of a real Renaissance panel painting, Simone Martini’s St. John the Evangelist.

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

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

Students discussing Renaissance works in the Barber Gallery

Students discussing Renaissance works in the Barber Gallery

The gallery session replicated the kind of work that students would be doing when they study History of Art at Birmingham: doing preparation before a seminar, applying it to a particular piece of art, sometimes first hand in front of the painting in the Barber Institute.

The Barber is a great resource for Art History students at the University of Birmingham which few other universities can offer. The students really enjoyed doing work in the gallery and some students even said they would have liked to have spent more time there so we’ll definitely keep that in mind for next year’s Taster Day! Overall, both the seminars and lectures gave the students an opportunity to experience the variety of ways in which they can be taught here and also gave them the chance to develop their own skills in analysing works of art and being active in group discussions.

We asked the students to express how they felt the day went, any positive impact it had on them, and what they most enjoyed about the experience. It was clear that the students loved the variety of the lectures and mini seminars, with one student commenting ‘I enjoyed the wide range of topics covered – film, Renaissance, women and contemporary art – as it provided a wide range of information and catered to people of all interests’. The students also enjoyed being able to see what a lecture and seminar are like, and as one person commented ‘the best part of the day was seeing how the style of teaching can differ. I particularly enjoyed the women and art seminar as it opened my eyes to the general theme of masculinity in art’.

In addition to the lecture and mini seminar experiences, the event also featured a talk from David Rice, Student Recruitment Officer, who discussed how to write a successful personal statement as well as Jen Ridding and Alex Jolly who spoke about volunteering opportunities at the Barber, and Charlotte Clark, a graduate of our History of Art programme who discussed her career since graduating. This gave the students a well-rounded and informed idea of applying to university, what our department has to offer, and where a History of Art degree can take them.

There was also the opportunity to talk to current students who were more than willing to express their enthusiasm for the course and answer any questions from the perspective of a student. One of the volunteers, Sophie Ross, a second year student, felt that the event was a huge success, and even felt the benefits for herself: ‘It was great to work with the lecturers on this and get to know them better outside of teaching and, for the prospective students, it was good for them to be able to speak to them too’. Another volunteer, Josh Roy, a third year student, said ‘I thought the open day was a success and catered well to the needs of prospective students. It was nice to be able to talk to them and see how they enjoyed it too – especially getting a taster of what it is like to learn inside the Barber. Despite not having attended a History of Art taster day myself- I believe I would have definitely swayed more towards taking the course at Birmingham!’.

Overall, the day gave the sixth formers a great insight into what art history is all about, especially at the University of Birmingham. Judging from the feedback, which was entirely positive, I think it’s safe to say that the day was a success! We look forward to welcoming some fresh and – and perhaps familiar – faces into the department next September!

For more information about studying at Birmingham, click here.


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