Tag Archives: UoB

Cultural Internships 2014-15: an opportunity not to be missed!

Are you a UoB graduate looking to gain experience in the cultural sector? Then look no further, applications are now open for this year’s Cultural Intern Scheme, so get yours in now!

Successful applicants will be given the opportunity to work in one of the region’s fantastic cultural institutions, with the added support and training offered by the University of Birmingham’s Cultural Engagement team. 6-month paid internships are available at:

BBC BirminghamBirmingham Museums Trust, Birmingham Opera Company, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), Flatpack Film Festival, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, Performances Birmingham (Town Hall/Symphony Hall), Sampad, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

For more information on how to apply go to the Cultural Internship webpage, the deadline for applications is 21st July 201UoB crest4.

Having benefited from being a Cultural Intern, I can thoroughly recommend applying for this fantastic scheme, if you would like to read about my experience at Birmingham Museums Trust, see my post here. Read about some of the other interns’ experiences on the UoB Culture blog.

Good luck to this year’s applicants!

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

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

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

Here is what she says about it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reconstructing the Hammer beams of Westminster Hall, or Carpentry as Art?!?! Whadaya… Crazy? PhD Student Robert Beech on the practical aspects of his research

Westminster Hall probably goes unnoticed to the hordes of tourists on their camera-clicking itinerary between the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.   Dwarfed between Pugin’s spikey neo-Gothicism and the ancient splendour of the real thing in the Abbey, the great hall broods, anonymous and unenticing.  And yet this hall, the only structure still standing of a once glorious medieval palace which has seen a host of coronation celebrations, monarchs lying in state, and trials for treason, contains one of the world’s great architectural treasures: its medieval hammer-beam roof.

Trial of Charles I in Westminster Hall from The Comprehensive History of England (1902)

Trial of Charles I in Westminster Hall from The Comprehensive History of England (1902)

Without the ingenuity of the carpenter, the architectural and engineering feats of the Middle Ages could never have been achieved.  The hammer-beam roof is the pinnacle of that ingenuity.  But the hammer-beam roof is not only a great technical achievement.  At its best, it is a form that displays an aesthetic sensibility of both subtle refinement and jaw-dropping grandeur.  My PhD investigates such structures: who built them and why; how they were built; and how ostensibly prosaic carpentry became art.   Any consideration of the hammer beam roof must turn on the fulcrum of Westminster Hall – the roof of which, both aesthetically and technically, is the finest work of carpentry ever realised – bar none.  It was completed for Richard II in around 1398 by the ‘disposer of the King’s works touching the art or mystery of carpentry’ (the ‘King’s Carpenter’), the genius, Hugh Herland (d. 1411).

Hammer-beam roof of Westminster Hall

Hammer-beam roof of Westminster Hall

Span was the major headache for Hugh.  Richard demanded that his 68ft wide hall be of clear span – no internal supports were to clutter the floor space.  Yet such a span was unprecedented, exceeding by nearly a third the then record held by a lordly hall, John O’ Gaunt’s Kenilworth Castle.  The technical challenge was enormous, and in an age when regally ordained public disembowellings were public entertainment, Hugh needed to get it right.  His enormous hammer-beam roof, an audacious technical tour de force, solved the problem.  And Herland did get it right.  It was not the deficiencies of the carpentry that demanded the insertion of a steel framework over 500 years later in 1914, but the ravages of the death-watch beetle.

The roof was not only a technical but also an aesthetic masterwork.  The great ‘arch rib’ which runs transversely through the roof-frames was state-of-the-art; the angel hammer-beams, entirely apt for a king obsessed with his own divinity, were unique.  Such features, especially the angels, were copied in a subsequent explosion of English hammer-beam roof building.

The roof has been investigated from academic perspectives both art-historical and technical.  Spats have ensued, with academics arguing about how the carpentry performs structurally, with no consensus arrived at.  As part of my PhD research I wanted to investigate the roof from a unique perspective: that of the carpenter.  How did Hugh Herland design the roof to perform?  Are there any clues in the carpentry which may indicate his thought processes?  In other words, I wanted to investigate not how the roof is working now from the perspective of modern engineers, but how Herland in 1393 intended it to work.

Obviously, how better to solve this conundrum than by building the roof!

I am a life-long woodworker and worked for a brief period in the field of traditional carpentry.  I would not, though, presume to call myself a carpenter.  So, with the crucial assistance of traditional carpenter Chris Dalton, we set about building the most remarkable, and demanding, part of Herland’s roof: the lower hammer-beam framing.  We carpentered it in green (unseasoned) oak, at a scale of 1:4, using identical jointing techniques to Herland’s.

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Preparing the braces, showing the type of oak slab from which they are cut

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Cutting the shoulder of a tenon

Having recently completed this section, sans all the moulding and tracery, we have come to our first earth-shattering (if un-academic) conclusion: it is very, very hard to do.  Much time has been spent rubbing our chins, scratching our heads and other body parts in both confusion and wonder at how Herland came up with this crazy framing.  The three-dimensional spatial imagination alone necessary to design the thing is staggering.  Nonetheless, already we have uncovered some valuable nuggets: regarding probable erection procedure, economic and adaptable use of timber resources, and how Herland (rather than C20 structural engineers) thought the roof would perform.

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Trimming the shoulder of a tenon

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A confused moment!

Postscript: We had intended to build a complete bay of the roof: two cross-frames and purlins, one frame with all the bells and whistles of moulding and tracery, the other left bare to show construction, but funding is currently a brick wall.  (I have constructed the above section at my own expense.)  So if anyone out there has any ideas how to further this exciting and unique project…

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Robert with finished beam

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Our Prize-Winning Students 2013!

At graduation this year, the department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies celebrated three of its students through the award of prizes for the best dissertation and best contribution to the department.

The Emily Rastall Memorial Prize, set up this year in memory of Emily Rastall, a graduate of the department who sadly passed away in 2012, was awarded jointly to Rachel Johnston and Charlotte Bagwell. Reflecting Emily’s own love of the Barber and her passion for her degree course, the prize rewards service and commitment to the department. Rachel Johnston served as student representative throughout her time at Birmingham, putting forward the views, concerns, and ideas of her year group. Like Emily, she was involved in the Buddy System which mentors new first year undergraduates, and she also played an active part in the musical activities of the Barber. Charlotte gave generously of her time, especially during her busy final year, to represent the department at Open Days and Applicant Visit Days, talking to Year 12 and 13 students, offer holders, and their parents about her experience of studying at Birmingham, and taking them on tours of the Barber.

Rachel and Charlotte with their prizes

Rachel and Charlotte with their prizes

I was very touched to receive the prize, particularly as Emily was a close friend of mine, and also because it serves as recognition of my involvement in a very special department which I have so enjoyed being part of during my three years at Birmingham. – Rachel Johnston

I was really honoured to be chosen along with Rachel to receive the first Emily Rastall prize. It’s a great prize to award, as a number of students willingly give their time to work for the department, showing their enjoyment of the History of Art course. I’m glad that I was able to contribute to the department and that I hopefully managed to convince potential students, who might be worrying over which university to choose, the strength of the University of Birmingham’s History of Art course. – Charlotte Bagwell

Charlotte and Rachel by the cherry tree planted in Emily's memory

Charlotte and Rachel by the cherry tree planted in Emily’s memory next to the Barber Institute

The involvement of students is crucial to the running of a happy, successful department and we are really grateful to both Charlotte and Rachel and all the other students who have given of their time and showed their commitment. Rachel and Charlotte were also contributors to The Golovine and we hope to hear more from them in the future!

The Sam Beighton Prize for the best dissertation was awarded this year to Maximilian Milward for his study of Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson’s ‘Sprucers’/Dog-Tired (1916). Max gives us a glimpse of the process of writing his dissertation, which was awarded a mark of 80.

For about the first three months of working on my dissertation, I just could not see how it was going to end. And by that I do not mean that I could not envision my final argument or the overriding theme of the project. I mean that I could not imagine how I would ever pull all the strands of enquiry together and actually finish such a horribly daunting task. It is the same for every history of art essay that I have ever done. But somehow, in the end, they always get done.

The subject of my study was a painting by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1889-1946) called ‘Sprucers’. Nevinson’s career as an artist spanned almost four decades but his most critically acclaimed works were made during the First World War. Today he is well-known for his Futurist depictions of machine-like marching soldiers and abstract shell explosions but a number of his war paintings are more reflective and understated. It was one of these less well known works that I decided to bring into question in my dissertation.

Christopher Nevinson, 'Sprucers'/DogTired, 1916, Bristol City Museum and Gallery (K2394)

Christopher Nevinson, ‘Sprucers’/DogTired, 1916, Bristol City Museum and Gallery (K2394)

‘Sprucers’ was exhibited for the first time in the autumn of 1916, when it was widely considered to be a condemnatory depiction of members of the British armed forces. ‘Sprucer’ was a slang term used during the First World War to refer to a soldier who was lazy or who avoided his duties. It was not my intention to consider whether this meaning was intended by the artist: more important to my dissertation was the way in which the social conditions of production and display changed the implications of the work. It was interesting, therefore, that by 1920 the name had changed from ‘Sprucers’ to the less provocative Dog Tired. The person responsible for this title alteration is unknown, and whilst this was discussed in some depth in my study, I felt that it was more important to establish the motives behind the change. Indeed I was able to argue that this was a deliberate alteration of a controversial title in order to make the painting more socially acceptable, and thus commercially viable, in the years immediately after the War.

Max at Graduation with fellow History of Art graduate Sapna Patel

It is going to sound a bit corny, but in the last few weeks of my working on the project I had elevated it to a status above that of mere coursework. It was a labour of love. Never before had I truly enjoyed a piece of academic work, and for this reason I am sad that it is over. All I can say now is thanks to my supervisor and the History of Art department for their support and help over the last three years. It has been a ball!

Congratulations to all three prize-winners and good luck with your future plans! This summer Charlotte has been travelling in China and is looking for a museum internship (perhaps in Hong Kong!). Rachel has been working as an intern at Apollo magazine, one of the oldest and most authoritative of magazines on the visual arts. Max is currently taking part in the British Horseracing Authority Graduate Programme with an eight-week placement at the Jockey Club Racecourses in Epsom with a view to going into horseracing journalism. Watch out Clare Balding!

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Can I do it all over again, please? Stephanie O’Neill-Winbow reflects on her time as the Barber’s Learning and Access intern…

Four years ago, having moved from Muscat, Oman, to Birmingham to study History of Art, I was just a little bit lost. Like most students starting university, I was moving away from home to a place where I didn’t know anyone or where anything was; you suddenly have to become completely independent, make new friends, take care of yourself and try to cover up your ridiculously low alcohol tolerance, all the while working towards a degree so that, in three years’ time, you hopefully know a little bit more than you knew before! It’s fun, very fun! However, when your mind turns to work experience (so important for finding a job these days) it can often become clear that not everyone is in the same boat: some people have had gap years in which they gained experience or their parents know someone who knows someone who knows someone who can get them a job over the summer. I had nothing like this. In Oman you couldn’t work anywhere unless you had a work permit (generally not given to 17 year olds), my parents hadn’t lived in Europe for about thirty years, and I went to university straight out of High School. So I decided to gain my work experience right on my door step – at the Barber Institute.

Stephanie and colleagues beneath Lady Barber's portrait

Stephanie and colleagues beneath Lady Barber’s portrait

In the second term of my first year, after I had settled in a bit, I started to volunteer. I spent many mornings and afternoons at the welcome desk, greeting and providing information to the patrons; I also spent a couple of afternoons in the galleries, talking to people about the paintings, and asking the children to stop running around and not to throw themselves at the paintings. Then when the current volunteering scheme at the Barber was introduced, I began volunteering in the Learning and Access department. Immediately it became evident that this was what I preferred: I was working with children during workshops, helping out on tours, assisting at seasonal ‘fairs’ and generally setting up and cleaning up from activities. I volunteered so much that the members of the department knew me – I was even asked to pose (fully clothed and paid!) for a portrait sculpture class and to represent the Barber at Careers fairs. Although as a History of Art student I was spending a lot of time in the Barber, there is so much that I wouldn’t have known about it if I had only spent my time in its library or seminar rooms. There is so much going on in the Barber Institute besides it being the home of the University of Birmingham’s History of Art and Music departments. It was especially enlightening to learn about the different departments that make a working gallery successful: it’s not as simple as hanging some paintings on the wall and waiting for the visitors and money to roll in.

After two and half years of regular volunteering, I was coming to the end of my degree and becoming slightly concerned about what to do next. The opportunity to apply for a paid Learning and Access internship at the Barber came up and I knew that I wanted it! In fact, I had known about the internship during my degree and the thought of applying had been an added incentive to volunteer; thankfully it paid off! After I graduated in June 2012, I was offered the 5 month internship to start in February 2013. I was nervous starting here since it felt strange: for the previous three years I had gone to the Barber for lectures and seminars or to spend hours poring over books in the library. Suddenly it was completely different. I had a desk, a computer, and an office, and I was actually responsible for aspects of how of the gallery as a business was run, rather than a place to study! Initially the internship involved lot of admin, answering phone calls, making bookings and passing things onto members of the department who actually knew what was going on. However after about 2 months I felt completely at home. Alex with whom I mainly work has been unbelievably patient with me, answering every little question I come up with and giving me every opportunity to challenge myself and learn more. In fact all the staff behind the scenes at the Barber have been a delight to work with. From the security guards who help me move big furniture to set up for workshops, to the lovely ladies in HR who deal with the payroll, and the marketing and collections team (who also have interns) who are so easy and helpful to work alongside, it has been a real pleasure. Instead of ‘just’ an intern, I feel like a part of the team. It has also been incredible to be specifically trained to become part of a professional team. As I write this I have just under 4 weeks left of my internship, and the interviews for the next ‘lot’ of interns are taking place very shortly. I find that I’m passing the phone over less and less to somebody else, and if anything it’s actually very satisfying and enjoyable being a point of contact.

The About Face Family Guide that Stephanie helped put together

The About Face Family Guide that Stephanie helped put together

One of my tasks at the beginning of my internship was to put together the initial draft of the Family Guide for our new exhibition About Face: the guide is now finished and the exhibition is open and all has turned out very well! I’m responsible for the Learning Room, and the activities that are placed there for children when they visit the galleries. As I’ve grown into the role, I now help out a lot more with gallery visits and workshops, and my confidence had soared; I genuinely feel beneficial to the department and part of the team. Last week the Barber Institute’s staff were invited to the National Gallery’s private view for the opening of the exhibition Birth of a Collection: Masterpieces from the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Unbelievably, I was invited as well! And I must say, I didn’t think that at the start of my career I would be attending a private view at the National Gallery in the company of so many important and influential people in the art world. This internship has given me opportunities and experience that I genuinely was not expecting and for which I will be forever grateful.

Stephanie (third from left) and other Barber staff at the private view of Birth of a Collection at the National Gallery in London

Stephanie (third from left) and other Barber staff at the private view of Birth of a Collection at the National Gallery in London

It is rare to find an internship in a respected, impressive and successful gallery that is not only long enough to allow you to learn something new and to challenge yourself, but also where you’re part of a team in which you have real responsibility – and one which is paid!  My internship here has given me incredible experience that I know will hugely benefit me in the future. Working in the Learning and Access department has made me sure that I want to continue in this direction. I truly feel that I owe the Barber Institute so much: I not only studied for my degree here, but I gained so much relevant experience here through volunteering, all of which led to the most amazing opportunity of actually working here. I’m now looking into doing a MA in a relevant field once I finish here in June, but really, I’d quite like to be the intern all over again…!

Stephanie at the tea for departing interns

Stephanie at the tea for departing interns

Read about Sophie Rycroft’s experience as an intern in the curating department here. The next round of Barber interns will be recruited in May 2014.

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A year abroad is not all about studying…Holly Wain escapes for a weekend of Renaissance architecture in the Loire Valley

During my year abroad in Poitiers I have been taken back by the friendliness towards international students. This has ranged from Poitevins, who have offered all sorts of help to navigate the often tricky French systems, to a real willingness to share French culture and welcome me into Poitiers’s traditions. An example of this is the organisation named ‘Poit’étrangers’ which is managed by the town council and the university.

Poitiers 1

The aim of the organisation is to put international students in touch with French families in the region who want to share culture and interests and to start new friendships. In November of last year the town hall organised a reception of international students where I met a very lovely couple who live in a tiny village in the countryside surrounding Poitiers. Edith and Jean-Pierre have been part of the organisation for some years and love to show students around the region. I was thrilled to hear about their idyllic French stone cottage overlooking the fields of Poitou-Charentes, and after talking about my studies in art history, Edith proposed a weekend to the famous royal Loire Châteaux.

The weekend of 9th March I took the train and found myself in tranquil countryside where I was very well looked after and was able to sample some delicious homemade French classics. Bright and early on Saturday morning we took to the road to travel to Blois situated on the river Loire and home to Francis I’s lavish château. Comprising of four distinct wings around a single courtyard, the chateau of Blois showcases varying styles from different periods of French architecture: the 13th century medieval fortress which includes the largest gothic hall in France; the Louis XII wing dating from 1501 which shows Italian influence; the Francis I wing from 1520 with a Renaissance spiral staircase; and finally the Gaston d’Orléans wing from 1638. This last wing illustrates the work of 17th century architect François Mansart, an architect that I am currently studying in the art history department of the University of Poitiers. It was therefore extremely interesting as I was able to get a real sense of the monumental effect created by Mansart’s use of architectural orders.

The famous ‘Francis I’ staircase at Blois.

The famous ‘Francis I’ staircase at Blois.

The Gaston d’Orléans wing at Blois, Mansart’s perfect mastery of the orders.

The Gaston d’Orléans wing at Blois, Mansart’s perfect mastery of the orders.

On entering the château we found all sorts of art forms acquired and commissioned by Francis I who acted as a ‘protector of the arts’. We also saw the lavish decoration of the king’s bedchamber including details that I had never known of before, such as the tradition of painted and gilded beams.

Pondering sculpture and tapestries at Blois.

Pondering sculpture and tapestries at Blois.

In the afternoon we travelled further down the Loire valley to arrive at Azay-le-Rideau which was announced in the brochure as ‘a jewel of Renaissance architecture’, and I was not disappointed!

The rear elevation of château Azay-le-rideau, surrounded by a moat and gardens ‘à l’anglaise’.
Holly Loire

We followed a guided tour around the 16th century château which took us up into the great attic and to sumptuous royal apartments. The tour gave a sense of the way of life led by one of the château’s original owners, Gilles Berthelot (financier to Francis I), and even details on the very interesting sleeping arrangements! Apparently, due to the difficulties with heating such large rooms all the guests would sleep top and tails in the beds together… so not as glamorous as you might imagine!

Azay-le-Rideau is not the largest and maybe not the most spectacular château in the Loire Valley but I found the 16th architectural details fascinating and the gardens were of particular interest. They demonstrate the growing taste during this period in France for the garden ‘à l’anglaise’ as opposed to the French model where symmetry reigned, reflecting the absolute reign of Louis XIV. The English garden, a reflection of a more liberal political system, was comprised of meandering paths and an impression of nature left in its original and wild state. Who would have thought that gardens and politics could have such links!

Holly and her Poitevan host on the staircase at Blois

Holly and her Poitevan host on the staircase at Blois

Through the organisation Poit’étrangers, my ‘welcome’ family and I had a great weekend discovering the heritage of the Loire Valley. I am very grateful for their kindness and willingness to engage with students from all over the world.

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Robert Atkinson, Architect of Cinemas @ UoB Arts and Science Festival

A review of the talk given by Dr Kate Ince on the architect of the Barber Institute as part of the Arts and Science Festival from UoB’s Blogfest…

Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Robert Atkinson, Architect of Cinemas @ UoB Arts and Science Festival.

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Culture Vultures

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We’re all very excited on campus today: the University’s Arts and Science Festival has begun! Throughout the week there are lots of interesting events lined up for staff, students and the public to enjoy. Find out more by browsing the brochure here. We’re particularly keen to flag up our offer:

1) Dr Camilla Smith (History of Art) will be giving a talk entitled: ‘A Leg to Stand On: Prosthetics, Art and Robots’ with Dr Nick Hawes (Computer Science), Monday 18 March, 6-7pm in the Learning Centre, LG14.

2) Us Art Historians will be running an ‘Art History Speed Workshop’ on Wednesday 20 March, 2.15pm, Barber Institute, where we will be talking about 5 key paintings in the Barber’s collection. Interested? Email e.a.lestrange@bham.ac.uk to reserve a place!

3) On Friday 22nd March, 10am-4pm in Red Marley (32 Pritchatts Road, G1 on campus map) you can drop in and contribute to a time-capsule as part of an HLF-funded project, ‘Digbeth Speaks’, which some of our postgraduates are leading.

4) Throughout the week do.collaboration, co-directed by Dr Richard Clay (History of Art), are hosting a series of events, including today’s ‘multi-touch play time’ where you can play on multi-touch, multi-user equipment! (Monday 18 March 1-4pm, ERI building).

ENJOY!

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Alumnus Lucy Wheeler tells us about her post-university experience!

In this brief summary of my two years since graduation, I hope I can provide an overview of my experiences of working in museums and galleries to date.

After graduating from Art History and spending six months firstly teaching in Cambodia and then travelling in Asia, I returned to Birmingham to take up placements at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and at Research and Cultural Collections (RCC). This was a great way to gain experience working with 2 very different collections; the Barber, a range of sculptures, paintings and works on paper from Old Masters to Impressionists – and RCC – an idiosyncratic University collection ranging from physics objects, foetal models to impressive modern art by British artists Peter Lanyon, Barbara Hepworth and Eduardo Paolozzi. At the Barber I was fortunate enough to curate my own exhibition about leisure in Victorian Britain, presenting works on paper from the satirical paper Punch that had never been shown in the gallery before, examples that demonstrated a humorous side to collecting at the Barber. As well as gaining in depth knowledge of the print culture and social implications of sport in 19th century England, I learnt basic paper conservation techniques to spot when a piece of work needed a bit of t.l.c.

At RCC, my main role was to manage a heritage project about University House – the first all-girls hall of residence (the building is now part of the Business School). I got to curate and interpret a period room in the Business School, create a heritage leaflet and organise a reunion for the Alumni of University House. I also got to spend time exploring objects from the University Archive linked to University House such as a war log book and photographs from tennis parties in the 30’s. As well as teaching me the logistics of how to organise a large scale event, this project enthused my understanding of Heritage and the importance of preserving artefacts from the past. I was touched by the letters I received from University House Alumni full of memories of their time at the University and was fascinated by the stories the heritage objects in our collection motivated by participants at the event.

After completing my placements in Birmingham, I embarked for London to start an internship at the Wallace Collection in the education department. Working to coordinate and deliver a number of workshops for school, community and access groups, I saw how greater access to diverse and innovative education projects could benefit confidence and development and realised my commitment to working within programming in a gallery environment. I also learnt how a successful education department needed the anchor of strong administration and organisation and took time to get to grips with data entry, spread sheets and databases.

I then was lucky enough to get funding to study for an MA in Art History at University College London. I look back on my MA as an amazing experience – the rigorous programme introduced for me new ways of understanding and approaching Early Modern visual culture using contemporary theory and I gained a good knowledge of South African contemporary practice. I made some great friends on the course and also volunteered at UCL Art Museum where I gained experience of updating museum databases and digitalising the collection online. Whilst writing my MA dissertation in the summer I took a month out to work with the BBC interning in the arts documentary department, writing pitches and treatments for BBC Four art documentaries and running on location shoots for shows including Imagine and The Review Show.

After graduating from UCL I started working at Jerwood Visual Arts, a contemporary gallery in South London which is a key initiative of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation. Highlights from this role include installing the annual Jerwood Drawing Prize and working with Marcus Coates and Grizedale Arts for the exhibition ‘Now I Gotta Reason’. I learnt so much at JVA, from scheduling and delivering artist workshops, managing a team of volunteers and marketing exhibitions through social media platforms.

©Hydar Dewachi

©Hydar Dewachi

I am currently working on a Freelance basis, creating education workshops and lectures for schools and museums. If I could offer any words of advice from my experience so far for those wanting to pursue a career in a gallery it would be: gain experience as soon as possible – from a department and museum that appeals to you; be prepared to undertake small, repetitive tasks-mail outs and room set ups are just as important as bigger tasks; PERSEVERE– the arts are overcrowded with lots of people wanting to work in galleries-but be patient and an opening will come!

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

Each year, the University’s College of Arts and Law offers a number of Undergraduate Research Scholarships, which give successful UGs the opportunity to collaborate with academics on bona fide research projects for five weeks during the summer vacation. This year, Holly Wain, a 3rd year art historian, successfully obtained one of these scholarships to work with our very own Liz L’Estrange on a project about a little-studied sixteenth-century Book of Hours, kept at the University of Liège. Here, Liz tells us more about “Wittert MS 29″ and her project, before Holly shares her experiences of doing “real art history”! 

I was really pleased to be granted the Undergraduate Scholarship and to be able to ‘employ’ Holly for the summer. We worked on a Book of Hours – a popular late medieval book of prayers and liturgical offices – that I had discovered in the University of Liège Library in Belgium (Wittert MS 29). As the manuscript hasn’t been studied by anyone before, I was basically starting from scratch. The ten miniatures it contains are very similar to others produced in France in the 1520s, yet the frames around them look like they date from a later period; moreover, the manuscript is a hotchpotch of different hands with some rather dodgy Latin! Part of my aim in studying the manuscript is to find out how its miniatures relate to other already-known manuscripts, where it might fit into mid-sixteenth century workshop production, and how it came to exist in the form it does today.

Some details from the illuminations in Wittert MS 29

All this has made for a really exciting project – rather like a detective story – but it also has also meant doing quite a lot of ground work to understand the complex nature of the manuscript. Therefore, it was a real bonus to have Holly working with me for five weeks as it meant we could share out the tasks and follow up various lines of enquiry. One of the aspects I asked Holly to work on in particular was the links between the manuscript’s elaborate borders and the art produced by Italian artists like Rosso and Primaticcio at Francis I’s chateau of Fontainebleau in the 1530s and 1540s. Holly proved a very diligent researcher and came up with all sorts of possible links between manuscripts as well as finding printed and painted examples that all helped to build up a field in which to situate this Book of Hours.

I felt it was really important for Holly to come to Liège to see the Book of Hours for herself, as undergraduate students rarely get the opportunity to see, let alone handle, rare books and manuscripts. Getting up close and personal to a medieval manuscript is always a privilege because you are handling something that has passed through so many hands. It is also often a revelation because it is only by handling a manuscript that it becomes possible to appreciate the work that has gone into its production – not simply the extremely finely painted images but also the handwritten text and the binding.

The mystery of this manuscript is not yet solved but my research has advanced considerably thanks to Holly’s input. Enthusing about such a precise area of my own research to an undergraduate researcher was also an interesting experience for me, because it involved some self-reflection including thinking about how to convey quite specific information about medieval manuscripts and taking a step back from the minutiae to consider about the broader importance of the research topic itself. However, I now realise that I should also have explained that interesting Belgian town names do not necessarily make for the best tourist attractions (see below)!

Elizabeth’s research on Liège, Bibliothèque Universitaire, Wittert MS 29 will appear in Reinventing Traditions – On the Transmission of Artistic Patterns in Late Medieval Manuscript Illumination, ed. by Christine Seidel and Joris Heyder (Quarternio Verlag Luzern, forthcoming 2013)

Holly’s involvement with Liz’s project involved a trip to Belgium to study the manuscript in the real, and several days spent pouring over books and manuscripts in various libraries in Belgium and France. Art history in the field, though, isn’t all about just hard work, as Holly tells us below…

Traditional Belgian fare

Last summer I applied to and, to my surprise and delight, was awarded an Undergraduate Research Scholarship to work with Dr Elizabeth L’Estrange on a project titled ‘Manuscript Illumination and Sixteenth-Century Franco-Flemish Art’, which focuses on a little-known Book of Hours dating that is housed at the University of Liège. I was so happy to get the scholarship, and everyone else in my year who had applied for it was so pleased for me. I had studied Liz’s module on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century art in my second year so I had a growing interest in this area and with my year abroad in Poitiers looming I thought it would be great for both my art history and my French. Despite all the advantages, however, I was still quite nervous to begin the research! The project was my first taste of professional research and I didn’t know if I would be up to the task.  As I look back now I realise how much I have learned about professional research in comparison to undergraduate work. In the first few days of the project I was putting pressure on myself to “solve the mystery” of the manuscript!… As I later found out, proper academic research is a much longer process than that.

In the first week I did some general research to get to grips with the manuscript illumination, its history and so on. Then I worked on compiling my own bibliographies and finding comparisons with the Liège manuscript in terms of its miniatures, the script and its binding. I found the research process really interesting; analysing images, finding similarities and then tracing the leads to identify trends. I felt like I had gained a good grasp of the predominant styles and active workshops at the time when the Liège Hours was made. In the middle of the five week period I got to see the book in the flesh: Liz had arranged funding for me to travel to Belgium and work with her there to advance the project. I met Liz at the train station in Liège, designed by Santiago Calatrava, and the next day we went to the University library, just over the bridge from the hostel where I was staying, so I managed to not get lost and was on time to meet Liz outside the very impressive building. Liz showed me to the room where we would be working for the day and introduced me to her colleague Cécile Oger who was also working on the project. There was a lot of French flying around the room! I found it really interesting, and although my French at that point was not quite up to the standard required for in-depth art historical analysis, Liz and Cécile really made me feel part of the project. It felt great to be in a team working at such a high level.

Gare de Guillemins, Liege

University of Liège

I had travelled to Liège with a friend from home who studies Fine Art in Reading so we got to explore some of Belgium in between working. At the weekend we had the great idea that instead of travelling miles to a big town like Antwerp, we would get to see loads more if we took the train to the towns around Liège. On Friday night we researched on the Hostel’s computer places such as Verviers and Pepinster (if I remember correctly I think we chose this town solely because we found the name amusing – I blame the lovely fruit beer for these decisions!). We went to bed extremely happy with ourselves and our plan… this did not last long. We arrived in Pepinster and our first words were ‘Oh, is this street it?!’ It was a very small place but we made the most of it and had some chips and mayonnaise. ‘Surely there will be more to see in Verviers?’, I said optimistically, but with a tinge of desperation. Unfortunately there wasn’t. So we headed back to Liège and went to Le Grand Curtuis, an art museum in the centre of town whose collection, ranging from ancient Egypt to the middle ages, made up for our lack of art during the morning.

Royal Library, Brussels

On Sunday we travelled to Brussels and the next day I met Liz at the Royal Library. The building was extremely impressive and after the long process of obtaining a reader’s card we were let into the manuscript reading rooms. Liz left me to find certain books we had on our bibliographies so I was able to practice my French as the system there takes a while to work out! The experience of travelling to Belgium gave me a real insight into the work Liz does. I got to meet researchers in the field, work alongside Liz in important research libraries, practice my French in the professional art history world and of course my unforgettable trips to the towns of Pepinster and Verviers.

On my return I worked for two more weeks on the scholarship. I spent one week following up the links between the manuscript and printed manuscripts of the period and the other was spent doing in-depth image analysis. I found the last week really interesting and so different to undergraduate research. I had the time to really study every stroke made by the artist who worked on the miniatures in the Book of Hours and I compiled certain facial types that reappeared  in the manuscript as well as certain techniques of shading. I then compared these to the Books of Hours of Henri II and Anne of Austria that were in a similar style and by doing so I was able to group together certain elements in the three manuscripts to gain an idea about the different hands involved in their production.

The end of the five weeks was not, however, the end of my involvement in the project. In September Liz invited me to Paris to be part of a meeting/workshop to discuss the manuscript with two scholars in the field. I had moved into my house in Poitiers in August and after the horrendous administration process in a French university, I welcomed a break in Paris with open arms! I met Liz at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France along with Cécile. After a lovely Parisian lunch we met some of the scholars with whom Liz is working at the Bibliothèque nationale. During my researches, I had read articles by these people so to be sat next to them discussing our research in French was very daunting! However, it was great being able to see the discussions that are had between art historians. The next day I met Liz at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. We looked at copies of printed manuscripts that had links to the structure of the pages of the Liège manuscript. I couldn’t believe I was working in the same institution as the great artists of the past! The scholarship has benefited me so much. I gained important research skills over the course of the five weeks and the help that Liz gave me each week over Skype was invaluable. I also got to meet scholars in the field and discuss art history in French on a professional level. It has helped all elements of my degree and on a personal level it has given me the confidence to pursue further research with a Masters after my undergraduate degree. It has opened up the world of professional research to me and Liz has kept me in the loop, such as my visit to Paris. I would definitely recommend everyone studying art history to apply for a scholarship.

École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts

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