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Departmental Research Seminar: Wednesday 7 October

Darkness in the Age of Enlightenment:
Cataract Surgery and Blindness in the Eighteenth Century – Rosalba Carriera, a case study

Dr Sophie Bostock

(Qatar Museums)

Wednesday 7 October, 4:10 pm
Barber Institute Photograph Room

There is a poignant and defiant self-portrait by the Venetian miniaturist and portraitist Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757), now in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Traditionally it is held to have been made after she had temporarily recovered her eyesight following the removal of cataracts. This paper analyses Rosalba’s final self-representation and interrogates it in a number of ways: using the portrait as visual evidence to appreciate how it related to issues of Rosalba’s subjectivity and self-perception in the face of excruciating surgery which eventually resulted in blindness; understanding the artist’s disability in terms of the painful medical treatment which would have been available to her at the time, and in the light of the notes of the surgeon who operated on her on two separate occasions in 1749; through the examination of an eighteenth-century engraving depicting cataract surgery, and by considering cognate examples of contemporaries who underwent similar procedures, for example the composer George Frideric Handel and contextualizing blindness in eighteenth-century historical, philosophical and ideological frameworks.


Refreshments served

All Welcome!

Enquiries to Sara Tarter:

A Summer break

The Golovine team is going to be out of action for a few weeks until the new term starts in October, when we’ll be eagerly welcoming a new bunch of Undergraduates and Postgrads! Until then, happy Summer… here’s a Summery Bruegel for you to ogle.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Corn Harvest (August), 1565, oil on panel, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Corn Harvest (August), 1565, oil on panel, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Frank Dobson, Sir (Francis) Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell, c. 1922, National Portrait Gallery

Frank Dobson, Sir (Francis) Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell, c. 1922, National Portrait Gallery

The department’s annual MA exhibition is now open at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. A collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, this year’s exhibition – The Modernist Face – explores the work of sculptor Frank Dobson and painter Matthew Smith, focusing on the relationship between the artist and the sitter.

The exhibition is open until September 27th and is a great summer activity, in particular, if you are coming up for any of our open days this week.

More information can be found on the exhibition’s webpage:

If you would like to learn more about the exhibition there are also a number of complementary talks and events running:

Tuesday 30 June, 1.15pm

The People Behind the Portraits in ‘The Modernist Face’: Roald Dahl, Jean Simmons and Others

Josephine Male and Rachael Hill, MA students and co-curators


Wednesday 17 June, 1.10pm

An Introduction to Matthew Smith and Frank Dobson

Rosie Broadley, National Portrait Gallery

Wednesday 1 July, 1.10pm

The Birmingham Group: Icons and Ideals

Brendan Flynn, Freelance Curator

Wednesday 8 July, 1.10pm

The Sitwells: An Ornamental Modernism

Dr Deborah Longworth, Department of English Literature, University of Birmingham


Saturday 4 an 11 July, 11am – 4pm

Figurative Painting and Creative Colour

With artist Adrian Clamp


Saturday 18 July, 1.30 – 4pm

Body Language

With writer Jacqui Rowe

Sir Matthew Arnold Bracy Smith, Self Portrait, 1932, Estate of Sir Matthew  Bracy Smith

Sir Matthew Arnold Bracy Smith, Self Portrait, 1932, Estate of Sir Matthew Bracy Smith

Another Michelangelo whodunnit . . . one nun, one ex-Vatican employee and one ransom demand for a stolen Michelangelo letter

Etienne Duperac's engraving of Michelangelo's finalised scheme for the new St. Peter's

Etienne Duperac’s engraving of Michelangelo’s finalised scheme for the new St. Peter’s

Yesterday the Italian newspaper Il Messagerro reported that the Vatican has received a ransom demand for the return of an autograph letter by Michelangelo which, unbeknownst to the outside world, was stolen from the Vatican archives in 1997. The letter is one of two documents that apparently went missing and is said to be written entirely in Michelangelo’s own hand, which is fairly unusual, since Michelangelo often dictated his letters to assistants who transcribed them for him to sign.

The facts, which are sketchy, are as follows. The documents were taken from the Fabricca di San Pietro, the archive of the department that oversees the maintenance of St. Peter’s basilica, which Michelangelo re-designed. According to a Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, who issued a statement after Il Messagerro published their report, the cardinal in charge of St. Peter’s, Angelo Comastri, has recently received a ransom demand for a “certain price” in exchange for return of the letter; Il Messagerro gave the price as €100,000 and claims that the request came from ex-Vatican employee who could get the documents back for the Fabricca. Father Lombardi added that the theft was first noticed by a nun who, in 1997, informed Vatican officials that the documents were missing. The ransom demand was ‘naturally refused’.

No further details have been made public at this stage. One BIG question, though, is why wasn’t the theft reported in 1997? The Vatican police are now investigating the theft, along with their Italian counterparts.




Dates for your diaries.

With the new semester in full swing, there’s no shortage of events to get yourself along to in the Barber Institute and elsewhere on campus. Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Tuesday 27th January 2015 at 5pm in the Muirhead Tower Room 121.

The next CeSMA seminar is being given by Erica O’Brien, an art historian from Bristol University. Her paper is entitled ‘Family and faith: sensory experience and devotional memory in the Hours of Mary of Burgundy’.

All welcome!

This Spring the Barber celebrates the research of recent and current postgraduate students from the University’s art history department in this mini lecture series.

Pam Cox (4th Feb.)

An Open and Shut Case? An Exploration into Jan de Beer’s Joseph and the Suitors and the Nativity at Night

Faith Trend (18th Feb.)

Venice Through the Eyes of its Artists: Canaletto and Guardi’s Landscape Paintings

Jamie Edwards (4th March)

Il fiammingo in Italia: Netherlandish artists and the allure of Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries

All welcome!

The return of the Institute's Jan de Beer

The return of the Institute’s Jan de Beer

  • Wednesday 18th March: Special Lunchtime Lecture ‘How many Brueghels make Four?’, Ruth Bubb (conservator), 1:10pm, Lecture Theatre 

Find out more about the mysterious ‘behind the scenes’ world of art conservation with paintings conservator Ruth Bubb, who has just completed the restoration of the Institute’s Peasants binding faggots by Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

All welcome!

Brueghel the Younger, Peasants binding faggots, Barber Institute

Brueghel the Younger, Peasants binding faggots, Barber Institute

The Barber Institute’s full programme of events for January through to April is available here.

  • Monday 16th March: Cadbury Research Library’s Annual LectureCivic Life: Oliver Lodge and Birmingham, Dr James Mussell (Associate Professor, University of Leeds), 12:00-12:50, Muirhead Tower Lecture Theatre G15

Free and all welcome but booking is required. Please email to reserve a place.

  • Wednesday 18th March: Cadbury Research Library seminar: Ten Books that Changed Medicine, Professor Jonathan Reinarz (Director of The History of Medicine Unit, The University of Birmingham), 13:00-14:00, Cadbury Research Library – Chamberlain Seminar Room

Free and all welcome but booking is required. Please email to reserve a place.

The Barber Association

The Barber Association

The Barber Association’s programme for Spring is now available here! Highlights include: 

  • Thursday 19 February: BEDFAS at the Barber: THE INSIDE STORIES: The Real Stories behind the Most Intriguing Cases of Nazi Looted Art,  6-8.15pm (Gallery viewing and refreshments at 6pm; Lecture at 7pm) 

Free for Barber Association members (usually £10). No booking required!

  • Wednesday 18th March: Art History Speed Workshop: Sight and Sound, 2:30-4, Barber Galleries 

Free but booking is required. To reserve a place email

(To find out more about the Speed Workshop, see here and here.)

  • Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies research seminar schedule for the Spring term is now available. Seminars take place at 5:15 in the Barber Photograph Room. The line-up is as follows: 

Thursday 29 January

Rosalie van Gulick (University of Utrecht; Barber Institute)

“Utter lack of true dramatic feeling”: Exploring Jan Steen’s The Wrath of Ahasuerus

Thursday 5 February

Richard Taws (University College London)

Trickster, Charlatan, Apparition, King: Representing Royal Impostors in Post-Revolutionary France 

Thursday 26 February

Imogen Wiltshire (University of Birmingham)

‘Better Than Before’?: Actor-Network-Theory and László Moholy-Nagy’s Occupational Therapy Courses 

Thursday 5 March TBC

Sophie Bostock (Qatar Museums)

Thursday 12 March

Gaby Neher (University of Nottingham)

Title TBC 

Thursday 19 March

Jamie Edwards (University of Birmingham)

Seeing Spiritually and Seeing the Spiritual: Seeking some Perspective on Pieter Bruegel’s Paintings 

Thursday 26 March

Abigail Harrison Moore (University of Leeds)

Palpitatingly Modern Luxury: Electrifying the Country House




From religious toleration to local regeneration: why a series of Zurbarán paintings is at the heart of Auckland Castle’s past and future by Lauren Dudley

Growing up in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, I have spent many hours exploring the beautiful and mysterious palace grounds in the town centre, but I had never really wondered what was inside the house attached to them, which has been home to the Prince Bishops of Durham for the last 900 years. A few years ago, the palace’s art collection, notably its remarkable series of paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), came under scrutiny when they were at risk of being sold. Thanks to philanthropist, Jonathan Ruffer the collection was saved and the palace has been granted charitable status as Auckland Castle Trust. With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, it is now open to the public and is part of a considerable investment project led by Ruffer in the regeneration of the town. So, during a visit home I took the opportunity to have a look around…

My tour began in the impressive St Peter’s Chapel, the largest private chapel in Europe and formerly the Castle’s Banqueting Hall. The original chapel was demolished following the Civil War. In the 1660s Bishop John Cosin (1594-1672) began the renovation of the Castle, including the conversion of the hall into the present-day chapel. Much of the decoration dates from the 19th century – notably the beautiful stained glass windows.

Upstairs, in the Throne Room a gallery of Prince Bishops is shown through a striking collection of portraits, which includes paintings by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) representing Bishops Shute Barrington (1734-1826) and William Van Mildert (1765-1836), one of the founders of the University of Durham. Barrington employed the renowned architect and Lunar Society member, James Wyatt (1746-1813), to make alterations to the Castle as shown through its neo-Gothic features.


Entering the Throne Room, a portrait of Bishop John Cosin hangs above the chair


Lawrence’s portraits can be seen on the top row, above the fireplace

From the Throne Room I went into the much anticipated Long Dining Room, which was specifically re-designed to house the series of Zurbarán paintings that have been the cause of so much talk in the town for the last few years. While some might find the paintings quite unusual, shocked that they were bought for £15 million, it is clear to everyone that they are rather special. Few Zurbarán paintings can be seen in the UK – the National Gallery houses some of the Spanish artist’s work and you can read more about it on their website here. The Barber Institute owns a painting attributed to the studio of Zurbarán, Saint Marina, c.1630s, which is an interesting comparison to the Auckland Castle series.


Dan VII, © Auckland Castle Trust

Zurbarán’s series at Auckland Castle is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It depicts larger-than-life individual paintings of Jacob and his Twelve Sons, the founders of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The figures’ dress are somewhat theatrical and they are depicted in striking poses, almost like actors, and they tower over the landscape behind them. In fact, the artist depicted the figures in the dress worn during contemporary religious processions in his home town of Seville. The expressive gestures of the biblical figures is perhaps evidence of Caravaggio’s influence on Zurbarán. The interpretation in the gallery also highlighted the fact that his figures were based on Albrecht Dürer’s engravings.

Levi III

Levi III, © Auckland Castle Trust

The early provenance of the paintings is mysterious – with one story suggesting that they were destined for a wealthy Catholic buyer in the New World but that the ship carrying them was capsized by pirates! In any case, the paintings, dated c.1640-44, ended up at an auction house in London in 1756 and Bishop Richard Trevor (1707-1771) bought them for £124 (of his own money, in fact) to hang in Auckland Castle. He purchased the series as a deliberate political gesture – while the paintings can be considered as Counter-Reformation in style, produced in a Catholic culture, their reception in Britain was intended as a gesture of support for the toleration of the Jewish faith. In 1753 the government had passed the Naturalisation of Jews Act, but it caused outcry, and it was not until the following century that Jews were granted full civic liberties. In this context, the 12 Tribes of Israel depicted by Zurbarán represented the foundations of the Jewish faith and, indeed, its shared heritage with Christianity, which would have been a bold gesture in eighteenth-century Britain – showing the power of art patronage on the political stage.

Simeon II

Simeon II, © Auckland Castle Trust

Fittingly, an interesting temporary exhibition is currently on show in the room adjacent to the Long Dining Room, entitled, The Power and the Glory: How Religious Art made Tudor England and the objects on display are presented as ‘survivors’ of the destruction that would follow during the Reformation. The recent exhibition at Tate Britain, Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm, showed objects that had been damaged during the Reformation (see my post about the exhibition here), whereas The Power and the Glory presents beautifully preserved, intact objects such as Margaret Beaufort’s Book of Hours and Elizabeth of York’s signed prayer book. The exhibition highlights how the political and religious landscape in Britain changed significantly as a result of the Tudor reign. Future plans for Auckland Castle include the establishment of a museum dedicated to the history of religious faith in Britain and extending its collection of Counter-Reformation paintings (find out more about the castle’s regeneration on their website). It would be an apt site for such a museum given the link with nearby Durham Cathedral and a little further away, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. The Castle reminded me of the Palais des Papes in Avignon and a much smaller version of the Vatican, so it will be exciting to see what becomes of Auckland Castle in the coming years.



Christ’s Passion in art from the Barber Institute

Ahead of the Easter weekend, here’s some of the key moments from the story of Christ’s Passion told using works of art from the collection of the Barber Institute.

Marinali Man of Sorrows

This sculpted marble relief shows the Man of Sorrows. It was made by Orazio Marinali (1643 – 1720), who was one of the leading sculptors in Vicenza near Venice in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The subject of the Man of Sorrows doesn’t actually derive from the New Testament descriptions of Christ’s arrest, suffering and crucifixion which constitute the Passion story proper. Instead, the subject comes from the Old Testament, chiefly Isaiah, who foretold of the coming of a sinless man who will atone the sins of mankind, writing (Ch.53): ‘He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is thus considered a prefiguration (a prediction, of sorts) of Christ’s ministry and ultimate Passion. And out of Isaiah’s prophecy developed the Man of Sorrows iconography, which typically exhibits precisely the characteristics that we find here in Marinali’s relief: a half- or bust-length image of Christ that is closely cropped, showing him looking grief-stricken, sometimes crying (as in here) and wearing evidence of his suffering including the crown of thorns (as in here).

The Barber doesn’t own a representations of the the Last Supper (when Christ announced his upcoming death to his disciples, one of whom would betray him), or the moment when Christ was arrested following Judas’s betrayal. And so we move on to the subject of the Crowning with Thorns.

Crowning with Thorns

‘And platting a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand. And bowing the knee before him, they mocked him, saying: Hail, King of the Jews.’ (Matthew 27:29) Following Christ’s arrest and having been sentenced to death by Pilate, Christ was taken into a hall by Roman soldiers who draped him in a purple robe, placed a crown of thorns on his head and a reed in his right hand (in lieu of a scepter), and then bowed in mock veneration of Christ. This is precisely what’s going on in the above etching by Luigi Pellegrino Scaramuccia (1616-1680), which was made after Titian’s painting of the same subject that is now in the Louvre.

van Dyck Ecce Homo

Anthony van Dyck’s Ecce Homo was painted at some time between 1621 and ’27 for the noble Balbi family of Genoa. Here van Dyck has also deployed the Man of Sorrows iconography, but this time an episode from the New Testament accounts of Christ’s Passion is illustrated. According to John, following the crowning with thorns, Pilate led Christ out to show him to the people, remarking: ‘Behold the Man’, which in Latin is ‘Ecce Homo‘ (John 19:5). Following this humiliation, Christ was given his cross and processed to Golgotha to be crucified.

Mellan Sudarium

When Christ was carrying the cross on the road to his crucifixion, St. Veronica wiped Jesus’s face using a cloth, on to which there miraculously appeared an image of Christ’s face (hence Veronica’s attribute the sudarium, or “sweat-cloth”, which you often find Veronica holding in depictions of the Carrying of the Cross, or see below for Veronica holding her sudarium on the outside shutter of a triptych). It’s Veronica’s sudarium that Claude Mellan (1598 – 1688) represented in the above engraving. With the rise of print publishing in the 16th century, Veronica’s sudarium became a remarkably popular subject in the printed media, which could be put up in the home as relatively cheap, but compelling, aids to devotion, intended to remind the viewer of Christ’s suffering and death. Mellan’s engraving is an example of this. However, Mellan also pays homage to himself: ‘FORMATVS VNICVS VNA’, the inscription on the bottom of the sheet, translates as ‘the one formed in one’, which is a pun on the uniqueness of Christ, the uniqueness of Veronica’s miraculous image, and, in turn, Mellan’s virtuoso skills, since this entire engraving is made up of a single unbroken line.

Memling Crucifixion

Golgotha, “the place of the skull”, is where Christ was eventually crucified and is represented here in a small painting that is attributed to the circle of Hans Memling (c.1430-94). Behind Christ we see Jerusalem, to his right a man in black who is shown kneeling in prayer (this is actually a donor portrait, so a portrait of the person who commissioned the picture). On a hill in the background, meanwhile, we find a miniature representation of the Agony in the Garden, when, following the Last Supper, Christ took himself off with 3 disciples to a garden at Gethsemane where he prayed to God to be spared from suffering and during which an angel consoled Christ (although there is no angel here); this type of mashing-together of chronologically separate episodes into one picture is a phenomenon referred to as simultaneous representation. Inscribed on the little plaque on the top of the crucifix are the initials ‘I. N. R. I.’, which are the initials for Jesus’s Latin title that Pilate had put up on the cross: “Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm.”

Circle of Rogier, Deposition

Attributed to a follower of Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400 – 1464), this triptych (three adjoining panels; the image on the left shows the triptych open, the one on the right the triptych when it’s closed) represents on its inside middle panel the Descent from the Cross, when Christ’s dead body was lowered from the crucifix. On the interior wings, meanwhile, there are 2 further examples of Old Testament prefigurations of Christ’s death: on the left Adam and Eve are shown mourning their son Abel, who was the first human ever to die having been murdered by his jealous brother, Cain; on the right it’s Jacob and Rachel being shown their son Joseph’s bloody coat, which his envious siblings had doused in a goat’s blood to make believe that Joseph had been killed, whereas in reality they’d sold him off as a slave. On the outside shutters, two female saints are shown in semi-grisaille (monochrome grey painting, and semi- in this case because their flesh is flesh-coloured): on the left is Helena, who recovered the True Cross and, on the right, Veronica with the sudarium. Altogether, then, this triptych not only rehearses the story of Christ’s redemption of mankind, but has a special emphasis on notable women and female mourning, which inevitably leads to speculation that the triptych was commissioned by a (grieving?) woman (or an organisation of women – for a convent?).


Finally, we return to the iconography of the Man of Sorrows in the above bronze relief, cast by an anonymous Italian artist at some point in the 16th century. The main scene shows Christ being held at his tomb by the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist as well as a few angels; emaciated, with his rib cage exposed, this image is a grisly reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. In the arched pediment at the top of the tabernacle, however, is a small image that hits home at the heart of the Easter story: the resurrected Christ, who rises from his tomb with his right hand raised in blessing, affirming for the viewer that because of Christ they also can hope for resurrection and salvation.

Jamie Edwards


As a trainee curator at Wolverhampton Art Gallery I was invited to the spring season launch at the gallery on Friday, for the opening of the New Art West Midlands 2014 and BP Portrait Award 2013 exhibitions. (Look out for a future post about my internship, including my involvement in the BP Portrait Award exhibition.) To mark the occasion of the opening of these two new and exciting exhibitions the gallery hosted some live music, a congratulatory handing out of arts awards certificates to young artists associated with the gallery and visitors were even treated to watching a few artists, including Adrian Clamp who as well as being an artist is one of the gallery’s facilitators, create portraits on the spot. The event was a successful celebration of art, its local engagement and its power to enrich communities.

New Art West Midlands 2014 presents innovative new work from artists who have recently graduated from art schools in the region. The exhibition incorporates paintings, sculptures and films that display a range of artistic approaches and influences. At Wolverhampton Art Gallery the exhibition includes the work of seven female artists, so what a great idea to plan a visit for International Women’s Day on Saturday 8th March!

New Art West Midlands runs until 10th May at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 27th April at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 18th May at BMAG and 15th March at Grand Union.

Anna Smith, Torso, ceramic sculpture.

Anna Smith, Torso, ceramic sculpture.

Wendy Ann Titmus, ‘Hands’ and ‘Feet’, beeswax.

Wendy Ann Titmus, ‘Hands’ and ‘feet’, beeswax.

Sharon Farrelly, Babs, mixed media on canvas.

Sharon Farrelly, Babs, mixed media on canvas.

photo (2)

photo (3)

photo (5)


photo (4)

Check out the previous post about the New Art West Midlands BMAG private view here.

For more information visit the New Art West Midlands Website


New Art West Midlands @ BMAG

Works from the region’s best art graduates were unveiled at the Birmingham Musem and Art Gallery on Thursday 13th February.

A few of us were invited to the private view where we sampled the very best from the West Midland’s  contemporary art  scene, whilst sneaking a cheeky look at the  Grayson Perry tapestries!

IMG_0550[1]            IMG_0551[1] IMG_0554[1]          IMG_0556[1] IMG_0557[1]                 IMG_0558[1] IMG_0559[1]             IMG_0561[1] IMG_0563[1]               IMG_0565[1]   IMG_0567[1]

New Art West Midlands runs until 27th April at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 18th May at BMAG, 15th March at Grand Union and 10th May at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Grayson Perry tapestries arrive


One of our History of Art MA graduates, Katie Hall has blogged about the arrival of the Grayson Perry tapestries at BMAG – we’ve shared her post here.

Originally posted on Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery:

Grayson Perry’s tapestry series ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ arrived from Manchester Art Gallery on Tuesday. The only way to move the very long crates into the museum was by carrying them in through the front doors and up the stairs. Hard work as you can see from the pictures! They’re all safely here now and we can’t wait to hang the tapestries with the Arts Council Collection next week.

Unloaded the Grayson Perry tapestries from the lorry

Carrying the Grayson Perry tapestries up the stairs  The Grayson Perry tapestries arrive through the main entrance doors

To find out more about ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ tapestries you can also download the Grayson Perry app (£1.99 from the app store). This lets you see the tapestries up-close and listen to Grayson Perry talking about each one, exploring the symbolism and making of the works. It’s a fascinating insight into the artist’s thinking.

We’ll also be installing the Grayson Perry pot in our collection, ‘Who Am I?’, and the fabrics that he designed for…

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