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Departmental Research Seminar: 26 October

‘Thomas Cole’s Journeys: Towards a Transregional History of American Art’

Professor Tim Barringer (Yale University)

Wednesday 26 October
4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre


Thomas Cole is celebrated as the “father of American landscape painting”, yet his biography (born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1801) and his work suggest a more complex identity. This lecture re-examines Cole’s formation in the industrial revolution, his emigration to America and return to England, where, in 1829, he met both Turner and Constable.  Cole’s work allows us to work against nationalist paradigms of art history.

Biographical Statement:
Tim Barringer is Paul Mellon Professor and Chair of the History of Art at Yale University, where he had worked since leaving the University of Birmingham in 1998. His books include Reading the Pre-Raphaelites (based on a course taught at Birmingham) and Men at Work: Art and Labour in Victorian Britain (2005). Exhibitions include: American Sublime; Art and Emancipation in Jamaica; Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde and Pastures Green and Dark, Satanic Mills. He is co-curator, with Elizabeth Kornhauser, of Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and National Gallery, London, 2018). He has contributed to a wide range of publications including David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, Rubens and his Influence, and David Hockney: 81 portraits and one still life, all recent exhibition catalogues produced by the Royal Academy of Arts. In 2009 he was Slade Professor of the History of Art at the University of Cambridge.

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter:


Ghent Altarpiece: “restored and ravishing,” and other discoveries



Restorers at work (image credit:

Regular readers, and especially those with an interest in early Netherlandish painting, might recall that since 2012 the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck has been under restoration. The work has been carried out by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), which is based in Brussels.

The project, which has a wonderful associated website, began with the intention of removing the old varnish from the altarpiece, which over the years has browned (as varnish does) and, in the process, subdued the original brilliance of the van Eycks’ colours and the frankly stunning effects that their careful, virtuoso, manipulation of oil paint created. The picture at the top of the post shows some of the restores at work.

Initial examination and cleaning tests showed promise, yielding impressive results, which are plain to see even through the eyes of the amateur. (Often with restoration campaigns, the initial results, and some of the images these generate, can seem hard to understand unless you happen to possess the technical knowledge that a restorer does, but in this case the results are obvious.) The images below are just a few available on the project website showing the initial cleaning tests, done to establish just how discoloured the varnish on the altarpiece actually was. Answer? Very (!):



Detail: Adoration of the Mystic Lamb cleaning test in sky; image credit:



Detail: John the Evangelist panel in grisaille; image credit:



Detail: Virgin Enthroned; image credit:

Spurred on by the initial tests, and their realisation that much of the altarpiece was mired by various overpaints made during several, separate restoration campaigns (some quite old, in fairness, from the sixteenth century in some cases, but overpaints nonetheless … ), the restores got on with the cleaning job proper, now with a view to removing the overpainting as well as the varnishes:

Vijd's hands

Comparison of Vijd’s hands: the hand on the far right has had overpaints removed, revealing subtler modelling (image credit:

Vijd's robe

Patches of overpaint removed from Vijd’s robe (image credit:

And now, after years and years of painstaking and loving expert work, we finally have images of the restored work on the whole; it is no overstatement, I think, to say that the results are absolutely spectacular:



Above: Ghent Altarpiece exterior in 2012; Below: post-restoration. Image credit: the excellent Facebook page Lukas — Art in Flanders, the Flemish art imagebank



Above: Annunciation in 2012; Below: Annunciation following restoration. Image credit: as above, Lukas — Art in Flanders



Above: Prophet Micah 2012; Below: Prophet Micah restored. Image credit: as above, Lukas — Art in Flanders

I mean … can we just take a moment to appreciate those. Everything just sings so much louder and more beautifully now.

Including these (the donor portraits showing Joos Vijd and Elisabeth Borluut):



Image credit: KIK-IRPA and Lukas — Art in Flanders

It truly is amazing work and so wonderful to see the altarpiece in its full resplendent, radiant and frankly gorgeous brightness. I remember when I saw the Ghent Altarpiece for the first time in St. Bavo’s; I thought it was good, very bloody good. I can’t wait to go and see it again now, now that it has been restored to its full brilliance.

The restoration has also made a number of other discoveries. Perhaps the most significant of these concerns the famous inscription contained on the altarpiece. The inscription was discovered during an 1823 restoration campaign. It gives the names of the donors, Joos Vijd and Elisabeth Borluut (seen above), date of completion (in the form of a chronogram, deciphered as 1432), and, sensationally at the time of its discovery, revealed that the altarpiece was started by Hubert van Eyck (‘maior quo nemo repertus,‘ that is, “greater than anyone”) and was finished by his brother Jan (who is described as ‘arte secundus,‘ or “second in art”). At the time, in 1823, nobody knew anything about this Hubert van Eyck and only knew of Jan; it follows that it was quickly suggested that the inscription wasn’t genuine, some kind of fake. Some postulated that jealously and parochial patriotism was the motivating factor behind someone’s decision to append a fake inscription to the work: Jan lived and worked in Bruges, not Ghent, so the inscription, it has been thought, was added as a way to proudly return the altarpiece’s origins to Ghent, done supposedly at the whim of an especially ardent admirer and citizen of that city.

The restorations just completed, however, have put the matter to bed. The restorations have shown definitively that the inscription is genuine, made by the hand of Jan van Eyck. This, of course, does nothing to help answer “which brother painted which bits?” (a subject of fierce, and frankly, it seems, unanswerable, debate since the discovery of the inscription); but it does confirm that the Ghent Altarpiece was produced as a collaboration. Given that Hubert is still just as much of an enigma as he was in 1823, it is gratifying to know that as a result of this work, posterity will at least know that Hubert was, for certain, at least partly responsible for the execution of what is undoubtedly one of the best works of art ever produced. In the meantime, we get to enjoy revelling in this ravishing work and bask in the marvels of modern restoration.


‘Francis Newton Souza, Suffering and Masculinity’

Dr Gregory Salter (University of Birmingham)

Wednesday 12 October
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre

Crucifixion 1959 by F.N. Souza 1924-2002

Crucifixion 1959 F.N. Souza 1924-2002 Purchased 1993


Francis Newton Souza’s paintings of the late 1950s include warped, disturbing translations of religious imagery – a crucifixion, bodies pierced by St Sebastian’s arrows, and gloomy ecclesiastical still life paintings – as well as tense self-portraits and distorted, pained representations of non-white bodies. This paper focuses on the male body within these works – a recurring subject for Souza – and traces a theme that appears to be folded into his representations of masculinity: suffering. Souza was born into an English-speaking Catholic family in the Portuguese colony of Goa, raised and educated in India, and left for Britain just after the partition. This paper places Souza’s works – and their focus on suffering and masculinity – in this historical moment of decolonisation and migration.

Biographical Statement:
Greg Salter is a lecturer in history of art at the University of Birmingham. He is currently researching British art, exhibitions, and migration since 1945 and is completing a book on reconstruction, home, and male identity in postwar Britain. He completed a postdoctoral role at the Geffrye Museum of the Home in London in 2015.

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter:

Cappuccinos, flaky pastry, cute bridges and the Guggenheim. In Venice. Emily Martin’s year abroad…

What was interning at the Guggenheim in Venice like? To be honest, everything you might imagine and a thousand times more amazing. This write-up proved to be a little tricky to do, because every time I started to write it I wasn’t satisfied with how it sounded. The grand canal didn’t seem impressive enough, the bridges weren’t appearing cute enough, the markets came across cheesily rose-tinted, the architecture of the city was too disneyfied, and my experience of the Guggenheim itself was overly nostalgic as though I were reflecting on another lifetime. I felt as though I was writing a sickly-sweet travel brochure and none of my descriptions were doing justice to the four months I spent there. This is the problem with perfection; it sounds rather impossible and naïve when you attempt to explain it. However, I’ll try again… Eighth time lucky maybe!


The view from work down the Grand Canal

On my fourth day in Venice, I was doing some shopping and getting a few things for my little flat, which had a great big lion head knocker on an enormous front door that opened onto one of those little side streets off the Grand Canal in Dorsoduro, (the bit of Venice that sticks out and finishes in a point), when a lady asked me (in Italian) where such-and-such a street was. It was at this moment that I realised I blended in. I had been feeling rather British, and acting rather britishly too, smiling politely, nodding a lot and standing at the back of queues. Impatient by nature, this had rather been getting on my nerves as clearly the Italians are not known for their waiting in line abilities (for example, but please also insert here pretty much all stereotypical differences between our two nations that you know of). However the very instant I realised I wasn’t a tourist on an extended holiday I threw myself in, with a sort of ‘if you can’t beat them (and I didn’t want to), them join them’ attitude. The firmly ordering a coffee from behind a group of Venetians who wouldn’t budge from the counter in a bar, like the scene in Eat Pray Love, took a bit of courage and a lot of practice, but after a month I had it down. Eating a sugared, flaky brioche with my morning cappuccino, one handed standing at the bar, trying not to look like a three year old with crumbs everywhere and holding onto a scratch of elegance took a lot more work. I set that as my personal goal…really that should have been written into the Learning Agreement contract for the year abroad under ‘cultural integration’.

Over the four months I’m not sure I could pick a day that wasn’t brilliant, but a few moments stick out in my memory, and are my go-to stories… Acqua Alta was amazing to see and have to live with. Everything flooded, this year was particularly bad and splashing through a deserted St Marks square with a few friends at midnight, on the night of my birthday, with the water pouring into my wellies, and wading up to the doors of the basilica looking at the mosaics in the portico was magical.


Splashing in a flooded St Mark’s Square…


Venice at Christmas

Christmas was also wonderful. Instead of going home my family came out and we enjoyed a very different Christmas; shopping in Rialto Market and going to listen to carols in my favourite church because of the stunning altar piece by Titian (Basilica dei Frari, and Assumption of The Virgin). The whole city was covered in twinkling lights and Christmas decorations, hot wine flowed in place of spritz and the lack of teaming tourists turned the streets and squares silent, as the mists swept through the canals and shrouded visibility to a few inches.


Misty Venice in the winter

Then there was the Guggenheim, the internship, and the whole reason I was in Venice to begin with. As interns we did all the behind the scenes opening, cleaning sculptures, guarding rooms, learning everything we could about the art works on display and Peggy Guggenheim herself, whose house the gallery used to be and who, despite anything you might have heard, was really an incredible woman ( probably because of anything you might have heard). We gave talks on the art, the gallery, Peggy, and eventually full guided tours of the whole collection which is comprised of some of the most remarkable works of art. If you aren’t aware of the Guggenheim Collection in Venice (everyone seems to have heard of the one in New York) have a look… It is beautiful, select and full of high quality works.


Emily giving a talk in the galleries

In my fourth month I was made assistant capo, which meant I was awarded a clipboard and a walkie- talkie and helped run the internship program, this was a fantastic little promotion because it meant I was able to really understand how a museum is run, the importance of certain aspects and the value of integral components; such as art works, reputation and ethics. There is an awful lot more than meets the eye! In a truly hands-on way I was able to help curators and registrars  with installing and organising the temporary exhibitions, do condition reports, help with restoration projects and facilitate press conferences and publications.


Doing practical gallery things…

Of course, as with any placement like this, the people around me were just as important as anything else and I have made wonderful friends from among the other interns but also from the long standing staff and I went back to shadow  Dr Phillip Rylands while I was studying in Verona (the second part of my year), who has been the Peggy Guggenheims director since the gallery opened in 1979, to properly understand what his role fully compromises. From my experience of the visitors I have become truly appreciative of lovely people! It is astonishing how many personal issues people can air in an art gallery at the ticket desk. I could write a book of anecdotes I witnessed when visitors thought no one was watching… Arguments sparked by Dali were continuous, amorous affections in front of Magritte were surprisingly common and Pollock did his infamous job to divide an audience the second you mentioned his name. In the midst of the general public we also had a few more well known visitors. Jude Law stopped by (wasn’t the friendliest), Novak  Djokovic and his stunning wife came (as lovely as his TV interviews), Jenny Agutter (Call the Midwife) chatted to me with her husband about Pollocks’ early portraits. She looked far too familiar but I only realised once she smiled at me on the way out, I kept my cool…it wasn’t easy. It turns out I’m really not great at celebrity spotting. One day I was walking through the galleries checking everything was alright when a really lovely American family greeted me, all smiles. The man made polite chit chat but he was very interested in the museum so  told him all about it, we chatted for about twenty minutes. I noticed a few visitors taking photos in his general direction but I didn’t think much of it, after all it’s an art gallery. I realised it was time to organise the other interns to close the museum so he thanked me for the conversation and I  left. It was only once a few fellow interns, members of staff and other visitors asked me what the man I had been chatting to for so long was like that I twigged he might be someone famous… Turns out I had been asking Laurence Fishburne and his wife Gina Torres, among other things, if they travelled much and if they liked modern art (they do). My bad,  I’ve never seen the Matrix.



Carnival in preparation

So, what was interning at the Guggenheim in Venice like? It was the best experience and it has made me more enthused than ever about following a career in museum and cultural management. Especially after the wobbly year we’ve had (Brexit) that boost of motivation hit at just the right moment, so all in all, it couldn’t have been better.

Emily is studying for a BA in History of Art with Italian. For more details about her course, click here.

JH Graduate Sophy Thomas on her new job at the V&A

Sophy Thomas graduated in 2014 with a First Class Honours degree in English and History of Art. She is now Coordination and Liaison Assistant to the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Performance 

I have to say that each of the last (c.) 500 days I’ve spent working at the Victoria and Albert Museum have been different. There have been many times when I have wondered at the unusual nature of my job there and the strange things I have had to do. Babysitting 30 giant fibreglass Olivier Award statues for example. Or manhandling three mannequins into a cupboard. Or hoovering the Joey Warhorse puppet. Working in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Department for the last year and a half has been a busy, exciting, eye opening experience and I have learnt a lot.

After graduating I wanted to take a year to try different things and get some experience to get more of an idea of what I wanted to do. I started in the Theatre and Performance Department at the V&A as a volunteer, working for 6 months unpaid which was wearing but worth it. And it’s what you have to do if you want to work in museums, I knew that already. I hadn’t considered working with theatre collections before (hadn’t even really known about it) as all my previous experience was in exhibiting art, but it has turned out to be a really great combination of my interests and, roughly speaking, my degree: English Literature and History of Art. I got involved with lots of different projects within the department and, at the end of the 6 months, was asked to stay on as full time (and finally paid!) staff.


Installation shot of the Curtain Up Exhibition (c) V&A Images

I have worked predominantly on the department’s smaller independent projects, exhibitions and events, where I have had more responsibility and been involved with more stages of the process. This has also meant more variety. One of the first major projects I worked on in the department was a three week series of live performances by entertainment PR Alan Edwards, talking through 60 years of Public Relations with a different high-profile guest each evening – the likes of Jeremy Deller, Bob Geldof and Alistair Campbell. I have also had the opportunity to go to Vienna and install a video display called Five Truths at the Theater Museum, which explores different types of theatre direction using a scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and organise a three-hour dance performance involving 50 students showcasing weird and wonderful costumes designed by Sandy Powell. More recently, I oversaw the installation of the Curtain Up exhibition about award winning theatre in London and New York which is currently on display at the V&A. I’m hoping I might even get to take go to New York when the exhibition tours there in the autumn…!

Though my job has its aches and pains, as every job does, the V&A is an incredible place to work, not just because of the beautiful building and vast collections, but because it’s a busy and forward-thinking museum.

Bosch at the Prado continued (if you understand Spanish)


The Prado have just released another video ahead of the opening of their new Bosch exhibition: Bosch. The 5th Centenary Exhibition (31.05.2016 – 11.09.2016).It’s presented by Pilar Silva, who is head of the Prado’s collection of flemish painting before 1600, and who has had the lovely job (gripes over the findings of the BRCP notwithstanding) of curating the Bosch exhibition.

To say that my Spanish is rusty is putting it generously. But unless I’m totally wrong, and if I am, sorry, I think that Silva mentions in the video that the Garden of Earthly Delights was probably commissioned by Engelbrecht II of Nassau. If this is indeed what she says (?!), it heralds an interesting shift in the accepted view.

Most scholars have up to now tended to view the Garden as a mature work by Bosch (usually 1510 or thereabouts; certainly post-1500). The earliest documented reference to the triptych comes from 1517, when it was seen by Antonio de Beatis in Henry III of Nassau’s Brussels Palace. Since this became known, it always been used as evidence to support the view that the Garden is late, since it has often been assumed that Henry commissioned the triptych from Bosch. Underlying all this, of course, has always been the idea that Bosch’s most visually spectacular work must have been the product of his fully-formed genius. Silva’s reference to Engelbrecht in the above video, though, signals serious interest in an alternative point of view.

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, Prado, ,Madrid

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, 1480s, Prado, Madrid

I’ve always believed that the Garden is an early work; Bernard Vermet has convincingly, in my view, championed just this. It is based on style (I, for example, don’t see how the Garden can seriously be thought of as a mature work when you put it next to the Haywain, which certainly is). The surprisingly early dating of the planks of wood from which the triptych is made–surprising, that is, to proponents of a late date for the Garden– fully supports an earlier dating: the tree concerned was felled in the 1460s, meaning that the panels could have been assembled and painted on, say, during the 1480s, which seems to be the most likely date for the picture’s execution. And if you believe this, that the picture could have been made as early as the 1480s (and note at the start of the Prado’s video that the dating has indeed been pushed back as far as 1490), then you have to look elsewhere for possible patrons. And it turns out that you needn’t look far: Engelbrecht II of Nassau was Henry III’s uncle, and when Engelbrecht died his estate fell into the hands of Henry. Engelbrecht could therefore have been the patron of Bosch’s Garden, who, it turns out, had the opportunity to commission the work from Bosch in 1481, when he stayed in Bosch’s hometown of ‘s-Hertogenbosch to attended a meeting of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

It’ll be interesting to read more about this when I get my hands on the literature…

Should also say–I am going to Madrid in a fortnight’s time, and will do a write up of the show. So watch this space.


‘Church Design in Counter Reformation Venice: San Nicolò dei Mendicoli.’

Faith Trend

(University of Birmingham)

Wednesday 18 May
Barber Institute Photograph Room


‘In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the churches of Venice were a hive of activity as the majority were updated – either rebuilt entirely or retrofitted with new features – to correspond with the new requirements for ecclesiastic architecture that were triggered by the Counter Reformation. Until recently, this is an aspect of the architectural history of Venice’s churches that has not had enough academic attention and this paper considers the reasons behind this, as well as demonstrating through the renovation of the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli just how significant this climate of reform was on the city and how clearly it can be demonstrated.’

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter:


‘Sweetness and Light at the Grosvenor Gallery’

Dr Melody Barnett Deusner

(Indiana University Bloomington and Fulbright-University of Birmingham Scholar 2016)

Thursday 12 May
Barber Institute Photograph Room


Grosvenor Gallery, 1877 (more images below)

‘Sir Coutts Lindsay’s Grosvenor Gallery in London has long been known to art historians as the premiere showplace for Aesthetic Movement painting in the late 1870s and 1880s. To technological historians, however, the location has a different significance as the site of London’s first truly successful central electrical power station, operated by Coutts Lindsay and located in the basement of the gallery itself. This paper draws together these two parallel histories and probes the relationships between the individuals involved in both projects. The cadre of upper-middle-class and aristocratic investors that speculated in this new technological field and reshaped the city as a series of interconnected nodes included collectors and promoters of Aesthetic paintings by James MacNeill Whistler and Albert Moore—pictures that elevate compositional arrangement and systemic organization to the level of the highest art.’

Biographical Statement:

Melody Barnett Deusner is an art historian for whom the networked conditions of our present world have sparked a series of investigations into the ways that an international range of artists and their audiences experienced and visualized the interconnected world of the past. As a Fulbright Scholar based at the University of Birmingham’s American & Canadian Studies Centre, she will be walking the canal towpaths and exploring the rail systems that served as key components of the nineteenth-century transportation, communications, and economics networks at the heart of her current research and teaching. Her own pathways have led her from Texas to an undergraduate degree at Rhodes College, a Ph.D. at the University of Delaware, and a post at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she serves as a specialist in American art to 1945. Her work has been recognized and supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS, and the Kress Foundation.

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter:


Grosvenor Gallery Electric Network


Albert Moore, Study for Birds, 1878


‘The Modernist Making of an International Rhythmic “Race”: Katherine Dreier’s Lithographs and Ted Shawn’s Dreier Lithograph Dance.’

Professor Robin Veder
(Penn State Harrisburg)

Wednesday 16 March
4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 7.51.02 AM

‘In the 1920s and 1930s, artist Katherine Dreier and dancer Ted Shawn believed they could make a new “race” by rhythmically stimulating viewers’ neuromuscular systems. Veder locates their joint contribution to American modernism within the overlapping discourses of physiological psychology, neurasthenia, and theosophy.’

Biographical Statement:

Robin Veder is Associate Professor of Humanities and Art History/Visual Culture at Penn State Harrisburg. She received her doctorate in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, and she has held post-doctoral fellowships at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center for American Modernism, Harvard’s Garden and Landscape Studies Program at Dumbarton Oaks, and in spring 2016, the Institute for Advanced Study at Durham University. She is author of several articles on transatlantic art history, visual culture, history of the body, and landscape studies of the long nineteenth century, appearing in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, American Art, Visual Resources, Journal of Victorian Culture, Modernism/Modernity, and International Journal of the History of Sport. Veder’s book, The Living Line: Modern Art and the Economy of Energy, was published by the Dartmouth College Press/University Press of New England’s Visual Culture Series in 2015.

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter:

Departmental Research Seminar: Wednesday 24 February

‘”Love is simply the name for the desire and the pursuit of the whole” Love and money in Abraham Ortelius’s Album Amicorum

Professor Joanna Woodall
(Courtauld Institute of Art)

Wednesday 24 February
4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre


‘Abraham Ortelius’s Album Amicorum, fol.53r’

‘Abraham Ortelius was a renowned Antwerp humanist, merchant, businessman, collector and, from 1573, official geographer to King Philip II of Spain. He is accredited with the first modern atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World), published in 1570, which became a best seller for over forty years. His beautiful Album Amicorum (Book of Friends) is a collaborative work of art, made up of a huge variety of texts and images written, designed and contributed by the individuals counted amongst his wide network – all but one of them men. This paper explores the relationship between love and money in the Album Amicorum, in particular the links between the virtuous, ‘heavenly’ form of love and desire for physical and material fulfilment. It associates the Album with the Symposium, Plato’s famous dialogue on love, in which a group of elite men at a feast decide to forego complete surrender to drink in favour of speeches from each of them, offered in praise of Eros, one of the oldest and most revered of all the Gods.’

All welcome; refreshments served

Enquiries to Sara Tarter:

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