Monthly Archives: January 2016

Careers and cake.


Careers after Art History? Undergraduates and Postgraduates – we’ll show you how.

Come to the ‘Bake off and Beyond’ careers event hosted by the Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies and the Careers Network.

2nd March 2016:

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts Lecture Theatre

Mondrian cake

Come and hear from UoB graduates in Art History who are now working the fields of curating, insurance and marketing. Find out about what it’s really like working with contemporary artists, working behind the scenes at Tate Britain, and going round people’s houses and valuing their art, antique and jewellery collections. Get advice on how to write a good C.V., where to look for a job, eat exquisite cake, and win £30…..all in one afternoon!


Poppy Andrews (Communications Assistant at the Turner Contemporary, Margate)

Chris Packham (Careers Consultant – Arts and Law Careers Network – University of Birmingham)

Rebecca Peake-Sexton (Project Co-ordinator at Multistory, a Sandwell based arts organisation, on working with international photographers such as Martin Parr (UK) and David Goldblatt (SA) on community projects and publications)

Dr Jennifer Powell (Head Curator at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, previously Tate Britain Curator and worked on blockbusters such as, ‘Schwitters in Britain’, 2014)

Henrietta Thatcher (Appraiser at Chubb Insurance Company, valuing the rebuild of historic and modern private houses; advising on the conservation, protection and collection of fine art, antiques and jewellery)

There will be discussion and a chance to ask questions. As part of this event, the department is holding a tea party with a twist – a ‘Bake off’. Tea and coffee will be provided. Participates can make a cake, which will be served as refreshment with tea. The best cake will be voted by the participants and will receive a prize of £30.

So, if you think you can take on the Mondrian cake, why not give it a go? To attend, RSVP to Liam Campell-Cave: by 25 February 2016



‘Fantasy Figures: Inspiration and Reality’

Professor Melissa Percival
(University of Exeter)

Wednesday 3 February
4:10 pm
Barber Institute Photograph Room


‘This paper presents research that culminates in an exhibition at the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse (21 Nov 2015–28 Feb 2016). The fantasy figure is revealed as a recurring phenomenon in European painting, encompassing the Venetian bravi and courtesans of the Renaissance, the isolated half-length drinkers and musicians of the Caravaggisti, the tronies of Dutch painting, the pitocchi vagabonds of naturalist painters in Italy, the expressive heads of eighteenth-century France, and the English fancy picture. These paintings challenge social norms by their exploration of ambiguous identity; through their semiotic ‘gaps’ they incite the viewer to imaginative speculation. Operating independently of academic and institutional categories (portraiture, genre, allegory), these informal and often quirky productions of the studio are celebrations of artistic freedom. The paper will focus on the intellectual background to the project as well as the transformation from idea to exhibition.’

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter:

New Donatello?


New Donatello? Picture- NYT

New Donatello? Picture: NYT

The New York Times reports that a new statue by Donatello has apparently been discovered. In an article called “A Name Game With the Old Masters”, Scott Reyburn recounts the recent history of the statue, where it’s been and who’s owned it, and tells us a bit more about how the 2-foot-8-inch tall putto, or “spiritello”, has gone from being simply “15-century Florentine”, to “Donatello”; viz., from “by anonymous” to “by one of the greatest artists, not only of the early 15th century, but ever”.

You can take issue with Reyburn’s main concern in the article that this stuff, which is to say the attribution of works of art, is done in the name of financial gain. The article turns into a résumé of some recent notable attribution upgrades, mentioning among them La Bella Principessa, which regular readers of this blog will be familiar with because of its most recent foray into the spotlight, and spins this into a narrative about how big names change prices: “Such is the power of a famous name. If you can make it stick”, he says. You can also take issue with Reyburn’s very first statement:

One of the problems for a billionaire wanting to put together a trophy collection of old master art is that the supply of documented works by the most illustrious sculptors and painters has all but dried up.

This is, I think, quite wrong. Documented works by the Old Masters do still come up for sale–Old Master Sales are, after all, still put on regularly by Sotheby’s etc., which it goes without saying means that there are still Old Masters out there to flog–and works of art do crop up on the market which can be related back to the old documents in order to make a convincing argument about its authorship. (A famous case being the recent acquisition by the Kimbell Museum in Texas of the Torment of St. Anthony, which they, and others, believe to be by Michelangelo not least because Vasari et al. document that Michelangelo painted such a thing!)

But the real issue I have, and I suppose it stems from the above objections, is the quality of the art history. The seller of the “new Donatello”, Andrew Butterfield, is a Renaissance scholar and President of the dealership Andrew Butterfield Fine Arts. So Butterfield knows his stuff. He also drafted in a number of other Renaissance specialists, in order to lend robustness to his suspicion that the Putto he bought in 2002 as “15th-century Florentine” is, indeed, a Donatello. And obviously I haven’t been privy to all their discussions, am not aware of all their evidence, their data and so on. Yet the evidence mentioned in the NYT inspires skepticism. This is:

  1. the Putto was originally part of a pair of statues, the other one being in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, who call it “15th-century Italian (possibly Florentine)”
  2. the design of the statue, namely the tiptoe stance

This led Francesco Caglioti, one of the scholars called upon by Butterfield, to pronounce in a catalogue published to coincide with a 2015 exhibition, in which Butterfield showed the Putto, that

we can safely attribute to Donatello not only the invention and design [of both the Puttibut also the personal responsibility for their execution in his workshop and directly under his eyes, for a decorative project he devised and followed through to its completion.

This all seems to me to be a bit of a leap–a leap, indeed, that is driven by the “name game”. Saying that a Putto was once part of a pair, and that that pair of sculptures is thought to be 15th-century Italian, does not give immediate cause to identify the maker of the pair as Donatello and workshop. Plenty of other sculptors would have made pairs of things, especially putti. The tiptoe stance ditto. And it’s all good and well to say that Donatello designed these things and then supervised their manufacture (and this is how sculpture was done then) to fulfil a commissioned project, but what might this decorative project have been?

In all, it’s just a bit vague. Assuming that there’s no way of ever stumbling across a document that says Donatello made such things, art historians will want more evidence: What technical evidence is there? Are they really right stylistically? What comparable projects did Donatello actually undertake? Etc. Those billionaire buyers, however, seem to be less demanding: Butterfield won the “name game” this time and successfully sold it as a Donatello.

The biggest concern of all, I guess, is that now the statue has entered a private collection there’s little hope that art historians will get to see it much, to study it and to conclude, more objectively, that this statue and its twin in Boston really are by Donatello.




Departmental Research Seminar: Wednesday 20 January

‘Fascist Fountains’

Dr Lara Pucci
(University of Nottingham)

Wednesday 20 January
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre

Fontana della Sfera Foro Mussolini.jpg

‘In his Ascension Day Speech in May 1927, Mussolini presented the modern, industrial city as a site of contamination and sterility. With concerns about population directly linked to the regime’s imperial ambitions, this speech set the stage for the demographic and pro-rural policies that would be framed by the concept of bonifica or reclamation. What began as an agricultural campaign to convert malarial marshland into arable soil became a flexible concept applicable to the regime’s campaigns to boost wheat production (bonifica agraria), to increase the birth rate (bonifica umana), and to purge Italian culture of foreign influences (bonifica della cultura). Central to Fascism’s regenerative project, bonifica came to represent the regime’s ‘desire to purify the nation of all social and cultural pathology’ (Ben-Ghiat, 2001). This paper will relate this discourse of cleansing to the case of public fountains integrated as sculptural elements within regenerative architectural schemes, such as the flagship new town of Littoria in the reclaimed Pontine Marshes, and the Foro Mussolini sports complex in Rome. As symbols of purification and regeneration, the fountains are read as concrete manifestations of the multivalent concept of bonifica. Stylistic, material, and architectural qualities will be considered in relation to the themes of modernism, historicism, nationalism, and imperialism. Finally, given the centrality of bonifica for Fascism’s discourse of modernity, the fountains are read, metonymically, as emblems of national rebirth and of the wider fascist project.’

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