Category Archives: University of Birmingham

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

Undergraduate Research Scholarships 2014

Every year, the College of Arts and Law funds a number of Undergraduate Research Scholarships that give non-final year students the opportunity to work with a member of staff one of their research projects. This year, three UGRS are available to students in the School of Languages, Culture, Art History and Music in the fields of drama and theatre, centenary exhibitions, and women at the court of Renaissance France.

Each scholar will undertake full-time research supervised by a member of academic staff for a period of five weeks between 23rd June and 26th September 2014.  An allowance of £230 per week will be paid to the scholar for each of the five weeks.

This is a really exciting opportunity to do paid work that will also enhance your academic career, help hone your research skills, and let you see what academics get up to when they are not teaching! Previous scholars have reported that the scheme helped to:

  • refine interpersonal and research skills
  • develop their understanding of academic research
  • boost their confidence
  • identify where their personal strengths lie
  • influence thoughts on what to do after graduation
  • enhance their CV

As part of this year’s scheme, one of our lecturers, Elizabeth L’Estrange, has been awarded a scholarship for her research on Anne de Graville at the French Court: Her Library, her Religion and her Works

Anne de Graville (1490-after 1540) was a noble woman who became lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude of France in the early sixteenth century. Anne built up an impressive library, of which some forty manuscripts – many of them illuminated – are still extant. She also reworked two popular literary works for the Queen: her Rondeaux is a reworking of Alain Chartier’s Belle dame sans mercy (1420), and her Beau roman (see picture below) is a reworking of Boccaccio’s Teseida (c. 1360). Both texts engage with contemporary literary trends and, in particular, with an on-going debate about the nature of women and love (la querelle des femmes). In addition, like some of her noble contemporaries including the king’s sister Marguerite de Navarre and Henry VIII’s future wife, Anne Boleyn, Anne de Graville was a supporter of early evangelical religious reform. Anne’s contribution to French literary, religious and artistic culture has, however, never been studied in any detail. Elizabeth is planning to write a book that looks at Anne de Graville’s role in courtly culture by looking in particular at the books that she owned and the way that she represented herself.

Anne de Graville presenting her book to Queen Claude of France

Anne de Graville presenting her book to Queen Claude of France

The student employed on this project would carry out research into the courtly context of which Anne was a part and into her literary and religious interests. In particular they would be asked to:

  • Find out more about the books that formed part of her library and how this relates to her own writings as well as to contemporary literary interests
  • Carry out bibliographic searches of primary and secondary material to explore the culture of the French court and the people in Anne’s circle
  • Look for further evidence of Anne’s religious convictions
  • Look for and analyse further representations of Anne

This project would give the student, especially one with some knowlege of French, experience of working on a truly interdisciplinary project, offering them the chance to use and develop skills in the disciplines of history, art history, literary and religious studies. In addition, it will introduce the student to the way that researchers approach and interpret women in early modern culture. The project would thus open up a potentially new area for the student to explore, specifically enriching their knowledge of early modern women and of France in the early sixteenth century.

For more details on Elizabeth’s project, you can email her: and download this file: E L’Estrange

You can also read about Holly Wain’s experience of working on a project with Liz in 2012 here.

Details of the other projects are here: Joanne Sayner  and Adam Ledger

And an application form is here: Application Form (LCAHM)

For more details on the scholarship scheme, please go to

If you have any general questions about the scholarship scheme please contact Rachel Canty (

Completed application forms need to be returned to Rachel Canty in Room 203, Arts Building by 12 noon on Friday 4th April 2014.


Old Masters Work Experience at Christie’s, with a bursary from UoB, by finalist Olivia Weightman

Between the 2nd and 13th of September 2013 I was lucky enough to be offered a place to do two weeks’ work experience a Christie’s in London in their Old Master’s department. When I arrived on the first day I was given an introductory tour of the main areas of the building along with the 15 or so other people who were starting work that day as well. We were shown the main auction rooms and galleries at the front of house and then were taken to look at the warehouses and photography rooms at the back. This whistle stop tour of the most important areas of the building was quite overwhelming and left me with the thought that I would be spending half my time there just trying to find my way around.

Christie's in King Street, London

Christie’s in King Street, London

Once in the Old Master’s office it did not take me long to get a sense of the international scale that Christie’s works on. Each of the four specialists in the vicinity of my desk was talking to clients and other offices in a variety of different languages: most of them were able to speak more than two languages fluently and confidently. Each day I was assigned tasks by the graduate interns who had received them from the rest of the department, which meant every task was different. The work I mainly undertook revolved around administrative tasks, for example helping out with expense reports, and researching paintings for clients. The latter can often take a long time: while I was there we had to go through one particular client’s collection and help find the provenance of each piece. In fact, it took us two weeks and five people to go through this entire collection mainly because most of the time all we had to go on were photographs of the collection and very often we didn’t even have the title or artist of the paintings. In this situation we had to take the photograph to one of the specialists who would make an informed guess concerning the artist and then we would go to the Old Master’s library and look through every book they had on that particular artist to try and find any images that had compositional or stylistic similarities.

Working with a relative lack of information meant it could be a very long process that occasionally turned up no positive results. For example one particular piece was an oil sketch of a man’s head tilted upwards which the client believed was a sketch from a copy of a painting by Rubens…this meant we had to go through all of Ruben’s work trying to find a figure with a similar head and at times felt like a history of art version of where’s Wally!  On a few occasions we found ourselves needing a distraction from the books so we would visit the archives to look through sale records for the specialists, although this did mean navigating our way through the  warren like corridors and going up and down the 119 stairs (another work experience girl and I counted) between the office and archives.

Me in the Old Master’s library doing research for a private collection.

Me in the Old Master’s library doing research for a private collection.

Apart from doing research and administrative tasks I was lucky enough to gain some hands on experience during the ‘hilling’ process. This involved examining works that had just been sent in, prior to a sale, to record any signatures, marks and damage on the front and any writing and stamps on the back as this was essential for helping prove the provenance and authenticity of the painting.

During the second week of my placement the department was busy with setting up the auction of the collection of Professor Sir Albert Richardson, P.R.A, a celebrated collector, architect and President of the Royal Academy (1954-1956). The Old Master’s department was only involved in part of the auction as the 650 lots were made up of examples of Old Master and British paintings, British watercolours and architectural drawings, English and European furniture, sculpture and objects, garden statuary, books, clocks, musical instruments and Georgian costume. I was involved with the research of the Old Master’s pieces and I also helped out with writing up the labels for each piece. However, the most enjoyable part of helping out with the sale was the installation. There was very little time for the actual installation and with so many lots, the six rooms they were placed in were incredibly busy in the build up to the previews. But we did manage to get everything up, whilst also triple checking everything was straight and labelled correctly and in the end the entire collection looked fantastic together and the sale total was over 4 million. The sale was a nice, yet manic, end to two weeks of hard work, research and countless stairs which really gave me an insight into the inner workings of an international auction house and gave me a quick education into the Old Master’s art market today.

One of the gallery assistants admiring the collection of Professor Sir Albert Richardson

One of the gallery assistants admiring the collection of Professor Sir Albert Richardson

I would like to acknowledge the help that the University of Birmingham gave me in securing this great opportunity. I was only able to do the work experience placement after I was awarded a ‘UK Professional’ bursary by the University. This bursary is designed for people doing work experience during the summer holidays and covers the cost of any travel or living arrangements that are essential to you being able to take part in your placement. I would thoroughly recommend this bursary to anyone planning on undertaking a work experience placement during the summer as you can be granted between £100 and £800 to pay for essentials – for me, the bursary paid for my weekly train ticket and London travel card. You can find out more about the bursary – and other opportunities – on the Careers Network pages.

The View from Lyon: French and Art History student Marianne Thomas on French culture and local schools…with a large helping of Chantilly

As a Joint Honours student, I’ve always considered myself very lucky to be able to profit from the variety of opportunities offered by both of my very different subjects: French and History of Art. However, this September, I felt even more fortunate (if also very nervous) because I was getting ready to begin my opportunity of a lifetime: living and working in la belle France!

After some thorough researching of French towns and cities through the ever-reliable medium of Wikipedia, I decided upon Lyon as my city of choice. The photos certainly seemed to hold the promise of a place that had everything: from the cobbled streets of Vieux Lyon, lined with speciality Lyonnais restaurants and crèperies, to the beautiful Romanesque architecture of the Basilique de Fourvière, Lyon appeared to be packed with interesting things to see, do and, of course, eat. Besides which, surely the fact that it’s twinned with Birmingham had to be a good omen?

The Roof Tops of Lyon

The Roof Tops of Lyon

It didn’t disappoint. My first few weeks were busy to say the least, filled up with being a tourist in my new home. After meeting lots of other people who were in the same situation as me, most of my time was spent exploring Lyon, test-driving my French and attempting to maintain the Art History side of my brain with a few trips to the sprawling Musée des Beaux Arts in the city centre. Only time will tell (or, fourth year, to be more precise) as to whether I’ve succeeded with the latter. However, I also faced the fun of tackling the notoriously difficult French administration process; setting up an electricity account in French via a phone call to a mumbling and irritable EDF man who kept putting me on hold had to be the highlight. I also had to brace myself for starting my new job.

Under the archways of ornate Fourvière

Under the archways of ornate Fourvière

Rather than be an Erasmus student in Lyon, I’ve opted to work as an English language assistant, helping students between the ages of 11 and 15 to improve their language and communication skills. I chose this option because I thought it would give me the chance to experience something that I would otherwise never see and, with no prior teacher training whatsoever, it’s fair to say that an ‘experience’ is certainly what I’ve had so far! I work in two middle schools in a suburb of Lyon, where many children face numerous social difficulties at home which, in turn, frequently have an impact on their schoolwork and, perhaps more importantly, on their behaviour. Consequently, there have been many situations where I’ve been standing in front of a class of fifteen Year 10s whose French grammar is worse than mine (and that really is saying something) and the pupils have no interest in learning anything related to English besides whether I’ve met One Direction. When all is said and done, however, I really am enjoying it. I’ve also been very fortunate to have supportive and welcoming colleagues, and in fact, I’ve found that most people I’ve met in France so far have taken the same approach. Even though Lyon is a big city – the 2nd largest in France – it’s often surprising how small and cosy it feels, and that’s largely due to its generally welcoming attitude and multicultural society.

Marianne has also mastered the art of ordering chocolat chaud avec Chantilly!

Marianne has also mastered the art of ordering chocolat chaud avec Chantilly!

All in all, to use the clichéd-but-incredibly-true viewpoint adopted by so many Year Abroad returners: this really is proving to be a wonderful experience. So far, I’ve had the chance to not only become fairly knowledgeable about Lyon itself, but also explore the nearby cities and towns of Geneva, Annecy and Avignon, all of which offered me their own unique insights into aspects of European culture, architecture and history, and I’m looking forward to visiting more Francophone culture hotspots this semester.


Le Palais des Papes, Avignon



Even though it will undoubtedly be very strange to return to Birmingham in September – especially considering that all of my previous History of Art classmates will have already left, dissertations complete and graduate caps in hand – I really would recommend combining History of Art with a language if the option presents itself, however terrifying the thought of a Year Abroad might be. You’ll get an amazing insight into an entirely different culture and even better, you’ll finally be able to pronounce all of those foreign-language Art History terms that no-one can ever say!

You can find out more about combining Art History with a language here. And Single Honours students of Art History are also eligible to study abroad for a semester in their second year!

Another Birmingham student, Clara Mciver, listed her top five reasons for studying abroad in this article for the Huffington Post.

Making Culture: New Ways of Reading Things – a review of a new University-wide module reviewed by Chloë Lund

In my final year (2012-13), I was amongst eleven University of Birmingham students who enrolled on a pilot MOMD entitled Making Culture: New Ways of Reading Things. The course encouraged students to critically engage with the material world by considering how objects make and reflect culture.

This may sound like pretty familiar territory for the History of Art student, but it demonstrated that art historical methodologies actually occupy a small niche on a broad spectrum of disciplines that ‘read’ cultural objects. Making Culture: New Ways of Reading Things is notable for being Birmingham’s first truly interdisciplinary module. Each week, sessions were delivered by a different University department, including the Research and Cultural Collections Study Centre, Lapworth Museum, the Centre for West African Studies, the Medical School, the Barber Institute, the Learning Hub, Cadbury Research Library, and Winterbourne Gardens.

The content of the classes were therefore exceptionally diverse. We had a go at some of the tasks involved in the professional roles of our session leaders, such as writing museum labels and condition reports for objects, considering an application for invasive research on a museum specimen, curating a display of objects from Special Collections, making a wax model for casting, and planning an activity to engage a target group with a work of art. We were also treated to a number of behind-the-scenes style tours and demonstrations, including watching a rock being sliced open to reveal a splendid fossil in the Geology Department, and prototype parts for an airplane being cast in the Metallurgy Department’s foundry. Sessions frequently incorporated class discussions, which were especially interesting because the group was comprised of students from many different cultural and academic backgrounds.

MOMD Jan 31 023

Although academic theory did inform our reading and lectures, the course was unusual in that it didn’t focus on the need for an in-depth understanding of an academic field. Rather, it seemed to be about developing a broad awareness of the use and interpretation of objects. During a review session, many members of the group agreed that the module had given them the skills and confidence to assess even objects that they had no prior knowledge of.

MOMD 21st Feb 048

The assessment of the module allowed us to demonstrate this. Each student was randomly allocated an object from the University’s Collections and asked to produce a number of readings of that object from different perspectives. My own assignment considered a work that I, like most students of the University, was already familiar with: Eduardo Paolozzi’s colossal sculpture Faraday, which is located on campus near the train station. I decided to refrain from an all too obvious art historical reading. Instead, I considered the work as a commodity; assessed how digital media could enhance public engagement with the sculpture; and evaluated the way that the work is interpreted within the context of the University Collections.


We also produced a reflective learning journal upon completing the course. The prospect of being assessed on a piece of work based almost entirely on my own, highly personal reflections was one that I initially found daunting. However, the assignment proved to be a really valuable conclusion to the course. I found that observing the themes and connections between the diverse sessions revealed a number of things that I had not necessarily been taught, but had learned as a result of the course.

As well as improving my understanding of the use and interpretation of objects of culture, I would say that taking Making Culture: New Ways of Reading Things actually served to enrich my University experience. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the University beyond my own department, and presented the privileged chance to explore its rich collections.

Making Cultures is now available as an MOMD (Module Outside the Main Discipline) for second year students and you can read more about it here.

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’.

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).

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.  

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

M, W and L

GMTG Musical Theatre society next week will perform a brand new version of Spring Awakening, a musical based upon Frank Wedekind’s original 1891 play. The play explores the development of sexuality and the transition between childhood and adulthood within a group of confused and sexually oppressed teenagers.  The Musical version of the play, which has been awarded a total of eight Tony Awards for its Broadway run, has been transformed from an Americanized drama into a visually stunning, expressionistic production by director Jacob Dorrell. The musical will explore several sensitive and socially controversial issues including sexual abuse, suicide, homosexuality and abortion.

H and ErnstThe design of the production will play a huge part in the communication of the concept and visual experience of the audience. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in the experience of bringing my good friend and talented director’s vision to reality and have chiefly been responsible for designing, sourcing and, in many cases, making a grand total of thirty costumes. However, because Jake’s mind was set on an expressionistic production with a predominately black and white colour scheme, the design and creation of the costume proved to be slightly more complicated than I had originally anticipated. I can’t tell you just how frustrating it is to come across the perfect dress for a character, only for it to be bright pink! Credit must here go to my Mother who has allowed me to use (and destroy!) her washing machine in the process of dying ten items of costume black. On the other hand, Jake’s expressionistic concept has presented the opportunity to be a little wild and to create some rather exciting costumes! I have been forbidden to give too much away (the pictures in this post really are a sneak peek), but I feel fully within my rights to say that Lady Gaga has been a huge source of inspiration for me!

M and M Hanschen

This production really is a departure from the family-friendly and popular musical genre that is customary to the Birmingham University stage. The musical will be comparable with ‘stepping into a moving art installation’ (in the director’s words) and the content much grittier than your average episode of glee. When Jake first approached me about being involved in the production, the performance seemed a vague and far off prospect. Now, a week before performance week, I have a bedroom full of costume and several last minute alterations to make. We have had a wonderful design team working on this production and I hope that History of Art students will come to witness a piece of performance Art and support the incredibly hard work of their fellow students!

Performances run from 26-30th November,

You can purchase tickets here.

Spring Awakening

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 191 other followers

%d bloggers like this: