Monthly Archives: September 2014

Probing Leonardo.

JAMIE EDWARDS

Leonardo's portrait of Cecilia Gallerani with an ermine, Czartoryski Museum, Cracow

Leonardo’s portrait of Cecilia Gallerani with an ermine, Czartoryski Museum, Cracow

Yesterday, we had a Leonardo being cleaned. Today, it’s a Leonardo painting being photographed, with a mega good camera.

Pascal Cotte, of Paris’s Lumiere Technology, has spent 3 years subjecting Leonardo’s hugely famous portrait of Cecilia Gallerani with an Ermine to a technique called the Layer Amplification Method (LAM), and has apparently discovered that poor old Cecilia once LACKED her posh, furry companion.

LAM works by firing a series of powerful lights at paintings, and a computer then registers the differences in the amounts of light that is reflected, thus revealing insights into what paintings look like beneath their uppermost layer. It is this procedure that has yielded the discovery that Leonardo’s portrait once showed Cecilia without the ermine, then showed her with a regular ermine, and then, finally, with the steroid-pumped ermine we see in the picture today.

Leonardo Ermine

The portrait, which is dated to about 1490, shows Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan and Leonardo’s chief Milanese maecenas. It has always been thought that the portrait was originally conceived with the ermine, as a signifier of Cecilia’s love for Ludovico, who was supposedly nicknamed “the white ermine”. That explanation still stands. But the real significance of all this is that it sheds light on Leonardo’s practices who, clearly, continued to play around with ideas even once a painting was well underway, as well as the specific circumstances surrounding the execution of the portrait. Why did Leonardo add an ermine to what otherwise seems to have been a finished portrait of Cecilia? Perhaps Cecilia requested it herself. Or Ludovico. So he added one. Thus portrait version #2. But then the portrait underwent another change, with the ermine becoming curiously bulky and sporting lion’s paws. Thus portrait version #3, the final one. Why modify the ermine? Perhaps this bit’s Leonardo’s invention, who, rather than choosing to represent Ludovico with a scrawny ermine (version #2), tried to flatter the Duke by envisioning him in the guise of a bodybuilding ermine. All interesting stuff . . .

 

 

 

Cleaning Leonardo.

JAMIE EDWARDS

Leonardo's 1481 Adoration (pre-restoration). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Leonardo’s 1481 Adoration (pre-restoration). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

As if the promise of a brilliantly restored Ghent Altarpiece wasn’t enough, then we can also now look forward to seeing Leonardo’s remarkable Adoration of the Magi of 1481 (above) looking a lot less, well, murky.

Leonardo was commissioned to produce the Adoration by monks from Florence’s San Donato a Scopeto. Leonardo abandoned the work, however, when he left Florence for Milan in 1481. In his stead, Filippino Lippi was asked produce an Adoration of the Magi, which he delivered in 1496. Both works–Leonardo’s incomplete and Lippi’s complete Adorations–are housed inside the Uffizi.

Leonardo conference. Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Leonardo conference. Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

In the early 2000s, the idea was mooted that Leonardo’s unfinished painting might benefit from restorations, and these restorations are now underway, being done by Florence’s Opficio delle Pietre Dure, which is one of the foremost institutions for the conservation of pictures in all the world. Recently they put on a conference (of sorts–typically Italian in its rusticity, as you can see above!) to show some of what they’ve managed to achieve. The restorations aren’t complete, but even in its partial state, what they have achieved looks pretty damn good.

For a start, we can make out more of Leonardo’s unusual and daring composition, which now appears sharper, less cloudy and has more depth to it than we’d hitherto realised. Clusters of figures are now more legible, ditto trees, the battle in the background, and, in particular, the odd arches and staircase etc. In addition, we can also now make out that the sky was executed in a pale blue wash. One of the features of Leonardo’s picture that has been consistently noted up to now is how murky it is and unusually limited in its colour. Turns out, of course, that the overwhelmingly browny-yellowish colour that made the whole thing look so dull is misleading, deriving from centuries’ worth of dirt and varnish accumulations rather than Leonardo’s original intentions. Here’s a selection of pictures:

Adoration (restorations underway). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Adoration (restorations underway). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Horses (pre-restorations). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Horses (pre-restorations). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Horses (restored). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Horses (restored). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Background arches and staircase (pre-restorations). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Background arches and staircase (pre-restorations). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Background arches and staircase (restored). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Background arches and staircase (restored). Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Restored area flanking the Virgin and Child. Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

Restored area flanking the Virgin and Child. Image credit: http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it

I think we’d all agree that they’ve done a sterling job so far, and we can look forward to seeing the finished product. In the meantime, find out a bit more about the cleaning and see more images here.

 

A Sixteenth-Century Summer: Rosalind Burgin talks about working on an Undergraduate Research Scholarship

When I was procrastinating on campus during the spring term 2014, I decided to leaf through the ‘paid summer scholarship opportunities’ that had been emailed to my student account. I fell in love with one of the project outlines for an Undergraduate Researcher. The Undergraduate Research Scholarship (UGRS) scheme gives UG students the opportunity to work as a paid research assistant for 5 weeks over the summer, under the (refreshingly relaxed) supervision of an academic. It sounded more appealing than bar work to say the least. The project that caught my eye was entitled “Anne de Graville at the French Court: Her Library, her Religion and her Works” and was being run by Dr Elizabeth L’Estrange in the Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies. Anne was an enigmatic noblewoman in the early sixteenth century, who owned a fascinating library and composed two known literary works at the behest of Queen Claude of France, wife of the more famous Francis I. One of these works was a reworking of Boccaccio’s Teseida, which was also the inspiration for Chaucer’s Knights Tale in which two knights fight for the hand of Emilia; the other was an adaptation of Alain Chartier’s Belle dame sans mercy in which a lady refused the advances of a knight. The aims of the project were enticingly broad: ‘Find out more about the books in her library’, ‘explore the culture of the French court’ and ‘study the implications of Anne’s own works’. Two hours later, I had written, re-written various application drafts, sent off the least pretentious version after seeking the advice of many friends, and embarked upon forcing the whole thing out of my mind before I could get too excited.

Anne de Graville presenting her book to Queen Claude of France

Anne de Graville presenting her reworking of Boccaccio’s Teseida to Queen Claude of France (BnF, Arsenal, ms 5116, fol. 1v)

The second year of my Modern Languages  degree (in French, Italian, and Spanish) had lead to me take an interest in early modern Art History, as some of my preferred modules had been Italian Studies’ classes on Dante and the Italian Renaissance, and the Hispanic Studies’ department’s module on Medieval Iberian literature and culture. I was especially intrigued by portrayals of women as muses of the Italian Renaissance, temptresses of the Middle ages and as various manifestations of the Madonna-Whore dichotomy.

Libro de buen amor

Libro de buen amor – the ‘Book of Good Love’ – one of the main sources studied on the Medieval Iberia module

Upon reading the UGRS brief, I realised that I had never studied works about women, by women. Researching Anne de Graville would be an opportunity not only to investigate the roles and portrayals of women, but also to observe the cloak-and-dagger techniques of early modern women who sought to actively engage in the debate over their position in society without being dismissed as uncourtly, radical rebels.

To my delight, I was offered the scholarship and couldn’t wait to get started. I frequently told my family and friends how excited I was, although there was the persistent fear of ‘Not Finding Anything’. As part of the project I would be meeting regularly with Liz to discuss my progress and findings, and I had nightmarish visions of meekly admitting to her that I had read lots, discovered nothing and had no insights to offer. From here came perhaps the best lesson I learned through the UGRS: research can’t be compared to filling in answers in an exam paper, or gathering enough information to fit the word limit on an essay. I remember Liz telling me to inform her if I came up against ‘dead ends’, and it was refreshing to realise that finding limited resources on one line of enquiry was Okay, and Not Finding Anything can still be progress.

One memory of the project that stands out in my mind is the day that I visited a library in Manchester to investigate a 15th century manuscript relevant to the project. As part of my Medieval Iberian module, I had previously had the opportunity to delve into Birmingham’s own Cadbury Research Library, to pour over manuscripts from the 14th-16th century. I loved how doodles in the margins were not acts of vandalism, but invaluable insights into the reading experience of someone who had handled the works centuries before. During the research project, I had become rather tired of leafing through secondary sources, and I wanted to examine original texts to see for myself what all the fuss was about. One of the main focuses of my research was Alain Chartier’s 15th century work, La Belle Dame Sans Mercy, which Anne de Graville adapted to create one of her own works, the Rondeaux. I knew all about various interpretations and analyses of this important text about courtly love, but it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen any versions of the original work. During a half-hearted Google search, I stumbled across an article on the Chetham’s Library website, featuring “The manuscript of a selection of the works of Alain Chartier (ca. 1385-1430)”. Chetham’s Library is in central Manchester, and I was staying at my parents’ house that was less than an hour away.

Chethams

Slightly ashamed of how excited I was, I picked up the phone to arrange a visit. I felt like a child, phoning up school pretending to be my mother, as I said I was a ‘researcher interested in investigating one of your manuscripts’. They didn’t call me out and expose me as a clumsy 19-year-old Undergrad however, and I set up an appointment to see the manuscript the next day. When I arrived at the library, part of me was expecting to be presented with a protective display case, thick gloves and an overbearing supervisor to protect the 15th century manuscript, even though I knew from my experience in Birmingham that I might just be able to pick it up. I was lead into a grand, wooden-panelled reading room and presented with the text that I had studied so intensely that it felt legendary. I was struck by how sturdy it was, and how vibrant the illuminations were. I spend the whole day gawping at its pages and delving into its history – who had it belonged to, where it had been bought, and could it possibly have passed through any circles relating to Anne de Graville’s court?

chartier1

The opening page of Chetham Library’s copy of Chartier’s works

At the end of the day I photographed the pages most intriguing to me, wrote up any notes I had made on its history, and bid the friendly librarians farewell. I was touched by how pleased they were to see me; they wanted me to keep in touch with any findings that came of my visit to the library, and they were interested in the research project. This ties in to the most poignant thing I have learned through the project: the value of contributing to an academic community, using each other’s materials and developing  existing analyses. I had read about interactions between writers at the early modern court, in that each new text was created as part of a dialogue with previous writers and their works, and it amused me to see this replicated in the study of manuscripts as well. Each new article on La Belle Dame Sans Mercy would address the works of previous academics; just as Anne de Graville’s Rondeaux was her response to Alain Chartier’s original.

Chartier2

The beginning of the Belle dame sans mercy in Chetham’s copy

The scholarship has been an invaluable experience for me, teaching me more about the research process, and how to manage my workload when I don’t have a simple question to answer or goal to reach. My growing interest in early-modern literature has been indulged, and I am becoming increasingly familiar with the study of manuscript culture. Liz’s enthusiasm and encouragement combined with my fascination with the debates that I came across in the articles I read have made the world of academia seem enticing rather than daunting, and I hope this opportunity proves to be an influential one in my future academic choices.

 

Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies Research Seminar Series 2014 – 15

 

UoB crest

Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies Research Seminar Series 2014 – 15

Barber Photograph Room, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, The University of Birmingham

Thursdays 5.15pm

Refreshments served

 

 

AUTUMN TERM

 

Thursday 9 October

Tamar Garb (University College London)

Photo Albums and Fancy Dress: Encounters with the African Archive

(Note the venue for this seminar is: Strathcona Lecture Theatre 1)

 

Thursday 23 October

Sandy Heslop (University of East Anglia)

Of shepherds and sheep: the fortunes of pastoral metaphor in Christian imagery c. 1100

 

Thursday 13 November

Krzysztof Fijalkowski (Norwich University of the Arts)

Cubomania: Collage, destruction and desire

 

Thursday 27 November

Lucy Reynolds (University of Arts London, Central Saint Martins)

A collective response: Feminism, film, performance and Greenham Common

 

Thursday 11 December

Jamie Edwards (University of Birmingham)

Piety, Peasants, Proverbs, and other Peculiar Pictures: Making sense of Pieter Bruegel’s paintings

 

 

SPRING TERM (titles of papers t.b.c.)

Thursday 22 January

Anna Gruetzner-Robins (University of Reading)

 

Thursday 29 January (t.b.c.)

Rosalie van Gulick (Utrecht University; Barber Institute)

 

Thursday 5 February

Richard Taws (University College London)

 

Thursday 26 February

Imogen Wiltshire (University of Birmingham)

 

Thursday 12 March

Gaby Neher (University of Nottingham)

 

Thursday 26 March

Abigail Harrison Moore (University of Leeds)

 

Enquiries Autum term: Jamie Edwards at JLE756@bham.ac.uk

Enquiries Spring term: Imogen Wiltshire at IXW713@bham.ac.uk

Welcoming Professor Tamar Garb – The Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies Research Seminar Series 2014 – 15

We are pleased to announce that the Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies will be welcoming Professor Tamar Garb to kick-off this year’s Research Seminar Series on Thursday 9 October. Currently Durning Lawrence Professor in the History of Art at University College London, and recently elected a Fellow of the British Academy, we are thrilled to be hosting Tamar, who will be delivering a lecture about her recent research on African studio portraits:

 

Photo Albums and Fancy Dress: Encounters with the African Archive

 

Weinberg, Nelson Mandela

 Prof. Tamar Garb

Durning Lawrence Professor in the History of Art, University College London

Fellow of the British Academy

Thursday October 9th 2014, 5:15pm, Strathcona Lecture Theatre 1

This lecture will look at the artifice and stageyness of African studio portraits via the project ‘Black Photo Album’ by Santu Mofokeng, the performed veracity of Samuel Fosso’s disguised self representations, and the ubiquity of a specific image of the young Nelson Mandela, widely regardedas ‘traditional’ and authentic. Throughout photographic portraiture is considered as a medium that mobilises the artifice of the studio, fancy dress and costume in the production of photogenic and fitting subjects.

All welcome!

Please also note that the full schedule for the Department’s Research Seminar series will be made available soon.

Please forward enquiries to Jamie Edwards: jle756@bham.ac.uk

Why I like this module… The Political Thriller on Film: Ideology, Genre, Emotion

Grace Higgins, finalist, BA History of Art

Grace Higgins, finalist, BA History of Art

 “One of the most interesting modules I studied at university was The Political Thriller on Film. The module, which looks at the film genre of the Political Thriller, explores how film makers since the 1960s have used the genre as a vehicle to explore the ongoing challenges and controversies of a highly politicised modern world. Having not previously had the chance to study film, the course has given me the opportunity to apply my visual analytical skills in a different way, alongside learning key theoretical concepts, exploring response to film and the debates raised.

Discussion and participation are heavily encouraged, as every other week we have the chance to respond directly to films we have watched, which range from the The Parallax View, the American thriller based on the investigation of the assassination of a senator, to The Battle of Algiers, about the urban guerrilla warfare used by Algeria to gain independence from France.”

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This final year 20-credit module:

  • Untitled4Is taught by Dr Alex Marlow-Mann, a specialist of European and especially Italian cinema
  • Explores the evolution of the political thriller on film from the 1960s – present in a range of national and political contexts
  • analyses if and how the genre of political thriller can be used as a vehicle for political change
  • Examines questions of audience engagement

Why I like this module… Michelangelo

Jamie Edwards, PhD Student, UoB

Jamie Edwards, PhD Student, UoB

“I jumped at the chance to take David’s course on Michelangelo for the third year of my Art History degree. I had studied 15th-century art and architecture with David in the second year and wanted to develop my interest in Renaissance art to much greater depth, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that. David’s expertise, not to mention his infectious enthusiasm, fully brought to life Michelangelo’s world and his famous works such as the David. The course considers Michelangelo’s life and output, from his rise to fame in the Medici Untitled5household, through to the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and on to his final works of sculpture and architecture. It also puts Michelangelo’s art in its cultural context: how does Michelangelo’s representation of the body fit in with contemporary debates about beauty and a polemic about style? What is the Sistine ceiling all about, really? Along the way, the artist’s “challenging” character was also revealed to us through the analysis of contemporary sources, notably Giorgio Vasari’s Life of Michelangelo. In all, the Michelangelo course was thoroughly fascinating, enjoyable and intellectually stimulating, and it led in no small part to my decision to research 16th-century art at postgraduate level, which I am still doing now (… some 4 years later … happily still under the influence of David’s unabated enthusiasm!).”

Untitled6

This final year special subject:Untitled7

  • Is taught by David Hemsoll, a specialist in the art and architecture of Renaissance Italy
  • Focuses on the wide-ranging works of Michelangelo, identifying his artistic objectives, his special achievements, his influence and his reputation.
  • Explores the artistic context within which Michelangelo worked
  • Examines critically both primary and secondary written and visual sources
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