‘Portraiture and the colonised: The problem and a case study’

Dr Simon Dell (University of East Anglia)

Wednesday 25 January
4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre


King Njoya, ‘King Njoya with one of his wives,’ 1912. Published: Der evangelische Heidenbote, Vol. 86, 1913

A portrait in the European tradition entails the production of a likeness of an individual. Thus the preconditions for a portrait are a category of individuated personhood or subjectivity and agreed procedures for the representation of that personhood. Yet how do these elements converge in the European tradition? And what are the implications of this for the depiction of people from beyond Europe? How, if at all, are the colonised to be represented in this tradition? This paper explores these questions through a case study drawn from the Bamum of the Cameroon Grassfields during the first decades of the twentieth century.

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter:

Spring Term’s Research Seminars

The finalised programme for the Departmental Research Seminars in the Spring semester  has now been made available. Please see below.




‘Art, Architecture and Exile; the Empress Eugenie in Farnborough, 1880-1920’

Professor Anthony Geraghty (University of York)

Wednesday 30 November
4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre



‘The Empress Eugenie – the widow of Napoleon III – spent the last forty years of her life in Farnborough in Hampshire. This talk will explore the house she lived in, Farnborough Hill, and the remarkable collection of fine and decorative arts she displayed therein.’

Biographical Statement:
Anthony Geraghty is Professor of the History of Art, and Chairman of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain. He is an architectural historian, with a specialist interest in the early modern period in England. He joined the University of York in 2002, having previously taught at the Glasgow School of Art in 1998-2002.

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter:

New Raphael …?

Jamie Edwards

Stephen Hibberts with the painting Noli Me Tangere (credit: Colin Usher, via The Telegraph)

Stephen Hibberts with the painting Noli Me Tangere (credit: Colin Usher, via The Telegraph)

That man up there, the Antiques collector Stephen Hibberts, reckons he has unearthed a lost painting by Raphael. Depicting the moment Christ told the Magdalene not to touch him following His Resurrection — a subject known in art history by the Latin words Christ is said to have uttered, “Noli me tangere” — Hibberts found the painting some years ago at an art fair in Avignon. Back then, it was, or so The Telegraph reported, lying on the ground, a much-maligned, and literally downtrodden picture, purported to be some detritus of some unknown period in art history from the hand of some unknown artist who harboured a penchant for producing pictures that resemble the Old Masters.

Yet despite these inauspicious circumstances, when Hibberts saw it, he liked it; specifically, he liked “its gothic and rustic appearance”. So he bought it, despite it not being “in the best of nick” (the latter, alongside “rustic,” being a poetic way of describing this picture, which, it must be said, is in horrible condition):


Hibberts’s picture (credit: Colin Usher, via The Telegraph)

“I didn’t think it would be worth much at all. I’m a realistic man,” Hibberts said in a statement last week, reflecting on the acquisition. “I’m aware,” he added, “that it is sometimes tempting to see things that aren’t there, that you see things you want to see.” Quite shrewd.

Unfortunately, however, it does seem that Hibbert has now decided to see things he wants to see, because he has since decided that his painting, the one he found lying on the floor somewhere in Avignon, is not only from the sixteenth century, but is in fact a lost Raphael!

The story goes like this. Hibberts allowed experts at Sotheby’s, The National Gallery and at Oxford and Cambridge to examine his work. They verified his initial inklings: this isn’t anything special. Their expertise yielded the view that this work probably comes from the Victorian period, when it was all the rage for artists to look back to the examples provided by Italian Renaissance art. But Hibberts didn’t give up; clearly, he’d decided that the picture he owned was something else entirely (on what basis he came to this view is for him to disclose). So he sent it to Bradford University, to try and date it. They examined the picture using Raman spectroscopy and microspectroscopy, in order to identify the pigments used in the painting. The findings were published in the Transactions of the Royal Society A.

The science has shown that the pigments used in the paint, and the way that the canvas was prepared and worked on, are thoroughly consistent with what we should expect for a picture produced during the Renaissance, around 1500. Crucially, to quote from the report, “No trace of any synthetic pigment that appeared post-Renaissance” were identified, which, “when taken with the obvious lack of restorative procedures, implies strongly that the painting is correctly placed as an artwork executed in the Renaissance period.” So far so good. It seems permissible — though it’s not necessarily a done deal just on those bases — that Hibbert does now own a sixteenth-century painting.

But the sting in the tail comes from the next objective: “It now remains to try and attribute this painting to a particular artist.”

This question is tackled in the tellingly entitled “Artistic Epilogue”, as if it is the case that when wrestling with matters of attribution works of art only come in with only secondary importance. We’re dealing here, again, with art history that does science first, and art history second. And adopting the Morellian approach to connoisseurship, the study hones in on “perhaps the most significant feature of this painting,” which is “the polydactyly of the Christ figure”. Christ does, it seems, have one toe too many on the right foot.

They say that this is a characteristic motif used in the Renaissance period, particularly by Raphael. They adduce examples to that end (listed in the report). They also add that several variants of the composition represented in their painting exist from the later sixteenth century. These include an engraving by Maarten de Vos (1582), a painting by de Vos, an engraving by Johann Sadeler (which they present as being somehow distinct from the de Vos print, whereas it is actually after de Vos, viz. is based directly on that print, as the inscription “ Vos inuentor / Joannes Sadler scalps” announces), as well as a few other later works from the seventeenth century. Below is the de Vos painting (I think … hard to get hold of) and the Sadeler print:

Johannes Sadeler I (Netherlandish, Brussels 1550–1600 Venice (?)) Noli Me Tangere, from The Passion of Christ, 1582–1583 Engraving; Plate: 9 3/8 × 7 7/8 in. (23.8 × 20 cm) Sheet: 10 5/8 × 8 9/16 in. (27 × 21.8 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. Carolyn R. Vietor, 1964 (64.563.46)

Johannes Sadeler I (Netherlandish, Brussels 1550–1600 Venice (?))
Noli Me Tangere, from The Passion of Christ, 1582–1583
Engraving; Plate: 9 3/8 × 7 7/8 in. (23.8 × 20 cm) Sheet: 10 5/8 × 8 9/16 in. (27 × 21.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Maarten de Vos, Noli me tangere, 1580s, Pinacoteca Stuard Officio, Parma. (I think ... )

Maarten de Vos, Noli me tangere, 1580s, Pinacoteca Stuard Officio, Parma. (I think … )

What seems fairly clear is that all of these compositions do somehow relate. There are significant differences between each of them, but, in general terms, the compositions match up. So what does tell us?

Strictly speaking, what it tells us is that in around 1582, a composition was (re)produced as a painting and an engraving by de Vos and Sadeler. What is doesn’t tell us is that Hibberts’s picture is the prototype on which de Vos and in turn Sadeler based their own works; that is a leap too far on the basis of the evidence currently available. And certainly it does not tell us that Hibberts’s picture is not only the prototype, but is in fact the prototype produced by none other than Raphael. Indeed, if one of, if not the, most important elements in the painting here in question is the extra toe, then that importance was apparently lost on de Vos and Sadeler, who omitted this apparently essential, and essentially Raphaelesque, element. Why can’t it be that the painting is after de Vos’s print, just as Sadeler’s is? After all, all the comparable works adduced in the study date from 1582 and after, which suggests that the prototype originated at around that date. Why can’t it have been de Vos’s 1582 print? De Vos being, at this point, very much alive and kicking, whereas Raphael had been dead for sixty-two years.

A possibility, of course, is that the supposed Raphael turned up at about this time (1582) and was the catalyst for all this, but that’s something that needs to be researched and explained. But even this, if it can be proven — and it is probably an unanswerable question — raises another troublesome question: if a Raphael painting had shown up in, let’s say, 1580, then why isn’t de Vos’s print signed “Raphael inuentor”? As Sadeler’s engraving makes clear, it is de Vos who invented the composition. It simply can’t be the case that de Vos and Sadeler would’ve missed out on the lustre that Raphael’s name adds to a print if they really were based on a painting believed to have something to do with Raphael.

And more to the point, can anyone actually plausibly say that the painting looks like a work by Raphael? This business about Christ’s polydactyly is hardly compelling in and of itself. Do the figures, for instance, actually look like figures designed by Raphael? Isn’t it problematic that de Vos’s figures look more Raphael-like than do the figures in the painting that we’re supposed to believe is by Raphael? Let’s remember that Hibberts acquired it — despite it being such an unremarkable work — because he liked its elegant “gothic” character; it almost goes without saying that Gothic isn’t a term usually invoked to characterise a picture by Raphael! (Heinrich Wölfflin would’ve bridled at the thought!)

To that end, the study’s claim that the painting, and the composition more generally speaking, has a Florentine origin is baffling to me. The evidence, they say, or so it seems, is that the view of “Jerusalem” in the background is actually Florence: a topographically accurate view of Florence as it appeared in the sixteenth century from the hill outside the city on which San Miniato al Monte stands, in fact. This is what that view looks like, from slightly lower down the hill, at Piazzale Michelangelo:


The painting, it’s true, has suffered extensive losses in the background, in the crucial places, and the reproductions available aren’t clear, but it is hard to see that the background really does include a topographically accurate view of Florence. This is clearer from the engravings, supposedly made after the painting in question. The backgrounds here simply do not look like Florence: the Synagogues in both may resemble the profile of the Duomo in general terms, but not precisely; and the Synagogue as it is glimpsed there is really of a rather generic type, familiar from many a picture. And based on what we can make out in the reproductions available to us, the painting likewise features only a Duomo-esque building, but other, key distinguishable buildings — absolutely central to identifying a townscape as Florence — appear to be missing: Palazzo della Signoria? and, orientation depending, Santa Croce? And at any rate, it’s not as if there’s a special or peculiar link between Florence and Raphael: he being a peripatetic artist who nevertheless lived in Rome from 1508.

All told, the idea that a new Raphael picture has been discovered has, as always, been reported with extraordinary gusto and enthusiasm. But the excitement, and blind optimism this generates, has tended to mean that the glaring problems have been downplayed if not overlooked entirely. So what do we know? We know that Hibberts has inadvertently acquired a sixteenth-century painting, the composition of which is known from other works including prints. But that’s not quite the same thing as discovering a Raphael ….





‘Mapping Paris: Artists’ Studios in the 18th-Century City’

Dr Hannah Williams (Queen Mary, University of London)

Wednesday 16 November
4:10 pm
Barber Institute Lecture Theatre


Hubert Robert, Entrance to Hubert Robert’s Studio in the Louvre, c.1779-90. Musée du Louvre. Photo: © RMN-GrandPalais (Musée du Louvre)/Thierry Le Mage. Image source: RmnGP

Paris is a city renowned for its artistic neighbourhoods. Images spring to mind of places like Montmartre and Montparnasse in the 19th and 20th centuries, where art practice evolved through relationships between local people in local spaces. But strikingly little is known about what came before. This paper explores the less familiar history of artists’ studios in 18th-century Paris, discovering how the ‘city of art’ was inhabited in the early modern period. Drawing from my research into artists’ social networks within the Académie Royale and also from an on-going digital mapping project, this paper investigates where Parisian artists were living between 1675 and 1793, and explores how artistic communities developed across the period. It is also concerned with the role played by the city and local neighbourhoods in artistic sociability during this period and considers the studio as a space in early modern Paris.

Biographical Statement:
Hannah Williams is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Queen Mary University of London. She is an art historian specializing in eighteenth-century France and is the author of Académie Royale: A History in Portraits (2015). She is currently writing a book on religious art in the parish churches of Paris and working on a digital mapping project exploring the cultural geography of the Paris art world.

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter:


Bold Tendencies: Finalist Camila Poccard finds a summer internship and funding from UoB

Over the course of my second year I became very conscious of the fact that I wanted to gain more experience in the art world and at art institutions. I heard about the Bold Tendencies Art Trainee Internship through the History of Art department around February when I had already done lots of thorough research on the opportunities available to me. So, the first piece of advice I can give is that there is always more out there than what you have already found, so don’t be disheartened if you have yet to find work experience or internships!

Although there were some immediate challenges surrounding the opportunity – namely that it was unpaid and in London – I still put in my application in the hopes that I would be accepted. In the meantime, I began to research the University’s bursaries and funding and work on my application. I found out about the Internship Bursaries that the Careers Network provide, and went to a workshop and presentation about them which I would also really recommend as they give you tips on your application. It was a long process that included an application, a presentation and an interview, but it was absolutely worth it. You can even put in an application before you have a secured place at your internship. There are so many resources in the Careers Network that are of use to students – you just have to go looking for them. Their bursaries for unpaid or low-paid internships are a fantastic opportunity to go and do for experiences you wouldn’t have previously thought you would be able to do.I was able to do this internship because of the help I was given from the University.


Working on the front desk: Simon Whybray’s installation Hi boo i love you

The organisation I interned at, Bold Tendencies, is based in a multi-storey car park in Peckham in South East London. As a not-for-profit arts organisation they provide many different things for the local community. On the rooftop there are sculptural installations across the two floors. They also have a wide and varied events programme which includes the resident orchestra Multi-Story, and education initiatives working with local schools and families. Every year they commission new artworks for the site, some of which become permanent installations. This year their most popular commission was an installation by a contemporary artist called Simon Whybray: he transformed the entrance foyer and stairwells of the car park by painting them bright pink. There are other installations on site by contemporary artists such as Richard Wentworth and Adel Abdessemed.

Camila 3.jpg

Camila greeting visitors on the day of the BBCs Proms at Bold Tendencies

There is something quite different about volunteering a day a week (or less) to an institution to having the opportunity to work three or more days a week, over an extended period of time with the same team, getting to know everyone at an institution. While I had learned a lot from volunteering at other galleries on an ad-hoc basis, this was an entirely new experience. I got to know everyone far quicker; people remembered who I was (especially when I went the extra mile!), and I got a far better sense of how a gallery is run on a daily basis.

Internships and volunteer work usually entail the work that others don’t have time to do, or perhaps the more menial tasks. But this is what you are there for: to be helpful. In return you may get to help with more complicated ventures or plans but you have to prove yourself first. I had to do a variety of things during my time at Bold Tendencies, some more exciting than others. I worked on the front desk, greeting visitors and talking to them about the artworks and the events programme; I would help set up the site and the installations; I completed administrative tasks like maintaing the mailing list and invoices; I worked on a film set; during events I would be ticketing and on the box office; and throughout the internship I contributed to the Gallery’s blog, Instagram and twitter.


Interns on a visit to the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey

One of the best parts of working for five weeks for Bold Tendencies was all the different people I got to meet, and the lectures that they organised for us. I got to meet professionals in different roles in the industry and get a better insight into all the different roles that exist in the industry.  I was given advice and inspiration by all the different people I met and it was definitely one of the highlights because it gives you hope for your own future career goals.

Because I had expressed an interest in education in galleries, I was asked by the director of gallery to stay on a bit longer and help with a project with the Head of Education. The gallery was having an event at the end of the season to announce their new charity status and to present their past education initiatives. These initiatives, the new charity status and their future ambitions, were all published in a ‘Prospectus’ and I was given the role of ‘Prospectus Coordinator’. Through this I got more hands on experience with coordinating a project and learnt a lot. To me this proves that any experience is what you put into it: I worked hard during my time there and ended up being given more responsibilities as a result.

The Bold Tendencies Art Trainee Programme is an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in a contemporary art organisation, network with people in the industry, and learn and experience new things. If this is something you’re highly passionate about, I could not recommend it more. My experience this summer was fantastic and I made life-long friends in the other interns!

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.

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