Category Archives: Uncategorized

Mary Beard on Blogging: why etc.?


Little podcast here of Prof. Mary Beard (Cambridge classicist) discussing her enormously popular Blog A Don’s Life, which, it must be said, us Golovine’ers (this one in particular) are big fans of (I happen to be a major fan of its author as well). Beard takes us through the genesis of her blog–which started a decade ago now!–and considers why blogging matters in the 21st century. Why exactly do we blog? What do we talk about? And what’s the point of it all?

Her thoughts in response are pretty interesting, and gives much food for thought for me, who happens to blog as often as I can and who also happens to believe that blogging is very important indeed (not least because it provides a platform for free thought on a whole host of interesting subjects without having to worry, for instance, about the kind of decorum or conventions that are involved in academic writing proper).

Anyway, give it a listen here.





New Bosch found in storage.


Bosch (?), Temptation of S. Anthony, c.1500-10, oil on panel, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri (credit: Rik Klein Gotink/Image processing by Robert G. Erdmann for the Bosch Research and Conservation Project)

Bosch (?), Temptation of S. Anthony, c.1500-10, oil on panel, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri (credit: Rik Klein Gotink/Image processing by Robert G. Erdmann for the Bosch Research and Conservation Project)

The Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP) strikes again. Regular readers might remember my previous post in which I set out some of the initial findings of the BRCP, which has seen a number of works removed, once and for all, from Bosch’s œuvre, along with the addition of a new drawing. Now more information about the BRCP’s findings have come to light and it’s good news for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, since the Project have concluded that its Temptation of St Anthony, which has been attributed to a “follower of Bosch” and is usually kept in storage, is in fact a bona fide Bosch.

Using powerful and sophisticated infrared photography and infrared reflectography, which reveal, amongst other things, images of the painting’s underdrawing, the BCRP have determined that they can assuredly identify Bosch’s “handwriting” in the St Anthony picture. This is to say that the underdrawing, its appearance and technique, along with the way in which the paint has been applied subsequently, compares favourably with other pictures by Bosch that the Project have examined. They’ve also removed a number of overpaints and more modern retouching, which, we read, obscured many of its details. This has all gone towards their revised attribution of the picture, and they have also concluded that the panel, which has been trimmed on all sides, was originally part of a triptych that has at some point been dismantled (a fate that befell many of Bosch’s works…).

Credit Rik Klein Gotink/Image processing by Robert G. Erdmann for the Bosch Research and Conservation Project)

Credit Rik Klein Gotink/Image processing by Robert G. Erdmann for the Bosch Research and Conservation Project

Anyway, there’s more here. You can see the picture for yourself in less than 2 weeks’ time when the major Bosch retrospective Hieronymus Bosch: Visions of a Genius opens at Noordbrabants Museum, ‘s-Hertogenbosch (13 Feb. to 8 May).

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.’

Departmental Research Seminar: Wednesday 9 December

‘Peter Blake’s God’s Own Junkyard (1964) – A Case Study on Photography as a Means of Architectural and Environmental Criticism’

Professor Hubert Locher
(University of Marburg)

Wednesday 9 December, 4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre


‘The lecture will revolve around the German born architect and architectural critic Peter Blake (1920-2006), presenting a case study on his book God’s Own Junkyard: The Planned Deterioration of the American Landscape (1964). This book combines short programmatic texts with a large number of carefully arranged photographs. In this lecture, I will try to describe and analyse Blake’s use of photography for popularising specific aesthetic standards. Photography is used as evidence, and as a means of advancing theoretical positions about architecture and environmental or urban planning in a plain and appealing manner. The book can be considered a relatively early contribution towards a criticism of man’s destruction of the environment, understood here not so much as an ecological system, but rather as an aesthetic phenomenon.’

Refreshments served

All Welcome!

Enquiries to Sara Tarter:

An International Interlude: A Review of the Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun Retrospective in Paris

Just as Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun spent a productive period away from her native France after the Revolution, so our painting of the Countess Golovine – an aristocrat that Vigée-Lebrun met during her time in the Russian Empire – is taking an interlude from the Barber Institute to assume its rightful place among some of the artist’s best works in a landmark retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris. This exhibition includes a phenomenal collection of work from across Vigée-Lebrun’s long career, revealing unexpected aspects of her production and confirming her primary place as one of the most accomplished and exemplary portrait painters of the late eighteenth-century.

The painting Marie Antoinette and Her Children (1787) as seen across multiple panes of glass and a bust of the artist by Augustin Pajou (1783)

It was emphasised from the outset that this is only the second exhibition devoted to Vigée-Lebrun’s work and the first to be held in France. With an expanded range of work compared to its predecessor, the 1982 retrospective held at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, this veritable homecoming exhibition offered the opportunity to express Vigée-Lebrun’s relatively underreported history in a nuanced and expanded manner. Alongside a loosely chronological structure, the display of the exhibition also featured sections of her paintings organised around her social circles, travel destinations, main themes and subjects and favoured materials. This effort to largely chronicle and contextualise the artist’s life was paralleled by staggered emphasis on its most important moments, relationships and works of art, creating a satisfying narrative balance aided by the display. The first room in the exhibition includes, for instance, a bust of the artist set in front of a glass pane that allowed the viewer to see across multiple display spaces directly to the back of the gallery, where one of Vigée-Lebrun’s best known paintings of Queen Marie Antoinette was hung. Seeing this painting from the outset of the exhibition and across a depiction of the artist allowed the curators to simultaneously highlight what is perhaps the most important painting of Vigée-Lebrun’s career while also emphasising her role, and the importance of art in general, in forming the image and reputation of both the Queen and the artist herself.

Peace Bringing Abundance (1780)

While examples of Vigée-Lebrun’s mastery of portrait painting abound, one of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition was the diversity of her production. Alongside her incredible pastel works, which rivalled her oil paintings and undoubtedly contributed to her virtuosity with colour, her rare historical and allegorical paintings were also given pride of place. This includes her painting Peace Bringing Abundance (1780), which Vigée-Lebrun submitted for acceptance to the prestigious Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture after the Queen’s intercession on her behalf due to her exclusion for her husband’s work as an art dealer.

Vigée-Lebrun’s aptitude for the allegorical also sheds light on the particular depth of reference she brought to her portraits, an example of which is her famous self-portrait with her daughter, Portrait of the Artist with her Daughter called ‘La Tendresse Maternelle’ (1786). The new theories on education and childhood propagated by Enlightenment thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau created a rush to define the modern iconography of maternal love, with Vigée-Lebrun’s examples at the forefront for her creative interpretations of Renaissance portrayals of the Madonna and Child like Raphael’s intimate Madonna of the Chair (1513-14). The informal and personal quality of Vigée-Lebrun’s painting in fact represents one of the most radical and attractive aspects of her work, and is present in almost all of her most remarkable and successful paintings, including her famous Marie Antoinette in a Muslin Dress (1783) and her portraits of Lady Emma Hamilton painted in Italy in 1792.

The landing leading up to the second floor of the exhibition

With a life set against extreme social and political turmoil, the two floors of the exhibition were justly separated into pre- and post-Revolution production. Forced to flee her homeland because of her proximity to the Royal family, her large personality and the ubiquity of her images, Vigée-Lebrun spent twelve years travelling the cultural centres of Europe while her family attempted to have her struck from the list of counter-revolutionary emigrés. Her renown and the quality of her work ensured a celebrated reception in each city she visited, and she was particularly popular in Russia, where she commanded huge prices for her portraits and circulated in high society. Her portraits also became consistently more daring during her time abroad, with her figures more naturalistic and their poses more dynamic than ever before; and the Barber’s portrait of the Countess Golovine (1797-1800), called ‘the most original’ painting of Vigée-Lebrun’s Russian period by the exhibition’s curators, is a perfect example of this. (Baillio & Salmon, p. 288) The relatively unadorned background and the octagonal shape of the canvas draws the viewer’s attention to the subject, who faces the viewer with an unwavering gaze while her hands dramatically gathers her neoclassical garb. The painting of the Countess Golovine was set among numerous other works of a similar size and composition in the exhibition, and Russia today holds one of the largest collections of Vigée-Lebrun’s work, showing her large and exceptional output during her time there.

A Portrait of the Countess Golovine (1797-1800)

IMG_9668Four of Vigée-Lebrun’s plein air pastels (1820-1830)

Vigée-Lebrun was finally able to travel to France in 1802, but while her return was much sought after and anticipated it did not stop her from continuing her travels around Europe. With the Treaty of Amiens she was able to live and paint in Great Britain for three years, and during her travels she even began to participate in the vogue for plein air drawing with her pastel studies of the Swiss Alps – a rare collection of which are also present in the exhibition. This final burst of creativity shows Vigée-Lebrun’s ability to adapt to her time and master her medium.

This groundbreaking retrospective of Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s work will be at the Grand Palais until 11 January 2016, when it will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (9 February – 15 May 2016) and the National Gallery of Canada (10 June – 12 September 2016). The portrait of the Countess Golovine will travel with it, returning to the Barber in autumn 2016.

Baillio, J. & Salmon, X., Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (Grand Palais, Galeries nationales: Paris, 2015).

For more information:

Sara Tarter


‘The Eye Wandering the Ceiling – Ornament and the New Brutalism’

Professor Mark Crinson
(University of Manchester)

Wednesday 25 November, 4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre


‘The ceiling was a neutralised zone under modernism. If ornament was a crime it would never practice its dubious business in the hygienic light-filled spaces above our heads. And if ‘papering over’ was to hide the shameful, then not to paper was to show there was nothing to hide. So if we raise our eyes to the ceiling in a modernist building it is only because we might think the sky-god had come into the room. The ceiling, however, was reconceived by New Brutalists, both as part of the topology of rooms and as a parafoveal zone within space perception. Thus it was explored in some major works (Patio and Pavilion, Parallel of Life and Art, Just What Is It…), but also in some ‘minor’ ones (like Eduardo Paolozzi’s ceiling paper) that are the focus here. Equivalent to the ‘New Landscape’ of experimental science, the ceiling was ubiquitous yet outside normal vision, contemporary yet seen by New Brutalists as part of a deep history of dwelling. This paper considers how such re-animated ceilings relate to forms of situated aesthetic experience that fascinated New Brutalists – most especially, Anton Ehrenzweig’s ‘gestalt-free’ theories of the psychology of perception, which call upon wallpaper and ceilings as part of their arguments.’

Refreshments served

All Welcome!

Enquiries to Sara Tarter:


‘The Avant-Garde’s Alternative Professionalism’

Professor David Cottington
(Kingston University)

Wednesday 11 November, 4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre

‘For a field of scholarly research that has experienced unprecedented expansion and development in the last decade, avant-garde studies is bedevilled by a surprising amount of confusion. After a hundred years of its increasingly ubiquitous currency, uncertainty over the definition even of its key term remains, at the most basic level. Thus, for instance, a slippage between the use of ‘avant-garde’ as a noun (the socio-cultural formation) and as an adjective (the qualities that define its common practices and characterise their products) that can be found in most discussions of it, with the result that the fundamental distinction between them is ignored. Moreover scholars of the avant-gardes have tended either towards the history of the formation or the theory of its ideology—when what is needed is an understanding which holds both in view at once. This paper is a resume of such an approach, which situates both in relation to the professionalisation of western societies over the last century and a half, but also grounds them in a concept of a professionalism alternative and oppositional to that of mainstream cultural practices.’


Refreshments served

All Welcome!

Enquiries to Sara Tarter:


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