Art Detective “doing” Bosch.

JAMIE EDWARDS

“There’s so much in him ….” Him being Hieronymus Bosch. True.

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Earthly Delights in the 2016 Bosch exhibition

Here’s Waldemar Januszczak being interviewed by the brilliant Janina Ramirez, as part of her Art Detective podcast series, on the subject of Bosch’s so-called Earthly Delights (1480s or 1490s; Prado, Madrid). Worth a listen; it does well, on the whole, to avoid, if not rubbish, some of the nonsense that people have had to say about Bosch, and this particular picture, in the past (including the “crazy idea” that this picture had something to do with Adamites!). It does a good job too to emphasise the basic religious significance of this picture, despite what you might think when you look at it for the first time.

There are some problems, though. It’s not all that exceptional, for instance, that Bosch ended up in the Brotherhood of Our Lady, as this was family tradition. (Though it might be exceptional that Bosch, as a painter, achieved such a senior position: he rapidly rose to the status of sworn brother, a promotion from “ordinary member,” and artists didn’t tend to occupy such an elevated position.) Most problematic, though, is the idea, rehearsed here, that the triptych was an altarpiece (  “… of course it was,” says Januszczak), which was set up in the Brotherhood of Our Lady’s chapel. OK, so a copy — they say here — might later have sat on the altar there ( … though I can’t remember what the evidence is for this? is there any? don’t think there is); and it is a triptych. But neither of those things mean that the original was an altarpiece.

For a start, not all triptychs were altarpieces; that’s the kind of assumption that led to the bonkers Adamites theory. (Put simply, that theory arose because if the triptych is assumed to have been an altarpiece, then it follows that it can’t really have sat on a Christian altar, can it? Sorry: the imagery just doesn’t fit there, for this image bears no sensible correlation with what actually goes on at a Christian altar …. So people went scurrying about to find alternative “altars”. Cue: the Adamites, whose altar, adorned with Bosch’s picture, presided over all the orgiastic sex. Err ….)

Any anyway, more compellingly, all the evidence — and when we’re dealing with Bosch, evidence is a rare commodity so should be seized upon whenever it’s available — suggests that the triptych was commissioned by a “local noble” for a domestic, albeit very grand, setting. That noble was Count Engelbrecht II of Nassau.

The triptych is first documented in the Nassau Palace of Coudenberg in Brussels in 1517: it was seen there by Antonio de Beatis (see, if you can, Gombrich, ‘The Earliest Description of Bosch’s Garden of Delight,’ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 30 (1967); Steppe, ‘Jheronimus Bosch. Bijdrage tot de historische … ,’ in Steppe (ed.), Jheronimus Bosch … (1967) ). At that time, in 1517, the triptych was in the possession of Count Henry III of Nassau-Breda, Engelbrecht’s nephew (the latter died in 1504 without direct legitimate heirs, so his property went to Henry). Current thinking is that Engelbrecht commissioned the triptych in the 1480s or 1490s (though disagreement reigns over which decade it was). Neatly, we do know that Engelbrecht visited ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 1481, to attend the 14th Chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece; and coincidentally, the first time that we find Bosch mentioned as a painter in his own right in the surviving documentation comes from that very year, when “Joen the Painter” sold shares in the Bosch family house at ‘s-Hertogenbosch to his older brother Goessen. Engelbrecht visited again in 1496, in the entourage of Philip the Fair. (The latter, we know as a matter of fact, was a patron of Bosch’s: in 1504, presumably with Engelbrecht once more in tow, Philip the Fair was in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and asked Bosch to produce a large triptych for him showing the Last Judgement. Inevitably — though not necessarily — this leads to speculation that Engelbrecht might have suggested to Philip that Bosch was an artist to be aware of!) And given that the Nassau owned a property nearby at Breda, we can guess that Engelbrecht, as well as Henry, actually visited ‘s-Hertogenbosch quite regularly, for business as well as pleasure.

The Prado endorses this view concerning Engelbrecht’s likely patronage, as did the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP Catalogue Raisonné, 2016). Not least this is because the triptych’s provenance can be traced from Engelbrecht-Henry Nassau into the possession of Phillip II of Spain, and, by extension, from there into the Prado in 1933. (Incidentally, it’s worth noting that when Phillip sent the triptych to the monastery of El Escorial, in 1593, it was not placed in a religious setting there either … it was placed instead in the royal apartments, in the Gallery of the Infanta.)

Januszczak surely knows this story about the triptych’s provenance: after all, displayed in the very same room as the Earthly Delights in the 2016 Prado exhibition was a portrait of the triptych’s likely patron, Engelbrecht, done in the 1480s by the so-called Master of the Princely Portraits. (You can just about make this out in photograph above, in the display cabinet.)

So, good and interesting podcast. But let’s not forget the evidence.

** Shameful plug, and tenuous link, alert: the podcast mentions Bruegel, and in case you’re interested, I’m giving a lecture about Bruegel at the Holburn Museum in Bath on March 22, to coincide with their exhibition Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty. More here.

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A week in Prague

REBECCA SAVAGE (finalist)

Each year, 2nd year History of Art students embark on a University-funded, week-long study trip to a European city, in order to study its art, architecture and culture up-close. In the past, students have visited, among other cities, Rome, Berlin, and Brussels. Last year, however, the destination was Prague. Just weeks ahead of the current 2nd years heading off on their trip, here is Rebecca Savage reviewing her week in Prague last year …. 

February reading week rolled around again and, with it, the much anticipated History of Art second year field trip, which each year sees a group of excited students set off to explore art a little further afield! 2016’s trip took us to the beautiful city of Prague in the Czech Republic, led by Professor Matthew Rampley, lecturer (and 2nd year personal tutor) Claire Jones and PhD student Sara Tarter. The trip is a core component of the second-year curriculum and is fully-funded by the University.

Prague is a city famous for its range of architecture which tells the story of the country’s complex political history, moving from Habsburg rule to the Austro-Hungarian empire and later Communist Government, all of which have made a lasting impression on the city: its streets, buildings, monuments and institutions. The sheer diversity of the city became obvious to us the minute we arrived by coach, in the low light of the evening, and, despite our tired eyes and rumbling stomachs, we were all struck by the range of buildings, bridges and statues that were there waiting to be explored.

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Bright and early the next morning, after a somewhat bizarre hotel breakfast – I observed at least two fellow visitors topping their porridge with cold meat and eggs – we headed out to explore the city some more, hopping on a tram to take us into the centre. Matthew led us on a tour of the older areas of Prague, taking in sights such as Old Town square which features the famous Jan Hus monument and the astronomical clock (which Matthew dismissed as “too touristy”).  Day one also featured a steep uphill trek, which despite the chilly weather and our aching legs, offered us one of the best views of the city (above) and the opportunity to visit the St Vitus Cathedral, and to view the changing of the guard outside Prague Castle!

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In contrast to the older areas visited on Tuesday, Wednesday gave us the opportunity to see some of Prague’s modern features, and to visit the National Gallery. Housing a collection of over 2,300 works, displayed over three floors, the gallery contains a number of Czech and European works from the 19th and 20th centuries. On the ground floor the gallery currently houses the monumental Slav Epic, created by Alfons Mucha between 1910 and 1928 and which represent the history of the Slavic people. Comprising twenty enormous canvases — each around 13 feet tall — they were, despite their mixed reputation amongst Czech nationals, perhaps the most memorable works from our visit to the National Gallery. Interestingly the gallery was also then exhibiting  Al Wei Wei’s Zodiac Heads, which I thought were made all the more impressive by the snow storm that surrounded them when we arrived:

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Thankfully the snow had cleared by Thursday, which saw us undertaking our second walking tour of the city, this time focusing on Prague’s modernist architecture, beginning with Wenceslas square. As with our tour earlier on in the week, this walk saw us considering and discussing a dizzingly-vast array of different sorts of buildings, all exhibiting such remarkable diversity in architectural styles. Highlights included the Hotel Jalta: a boutique hotel from the communist era which boasts a nuclear bunker and socialist statues as decoration. Matthew also pointed our attention to the statue of Wenceslas square’s eponymous king, a controversially parodic work by artist David Černý (an artist famous for his subversive works including the The Piss Sculpture in front of the Franz Kafka museum and the Olympic London Booster Bus):

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On Friday a group of us embarked on a walk up to the National Memorial on Vitkov Hill. Originally built as a monument to Czechoslovakian legionaries, and later used to promote the communist regime, the memorial was opened to the public by the National Gallery in 2009 — although it still maintains some of its previous sinister gravitas.  On Friday afternoon we visited the Municipal House and its Art Nouveau exhibition. Again this offered us another side to the city’s artistic legacy and rich holdings, featuring glass, fashion and furniture which often get otherwise overlooked.

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Alongside all the key visits just described, we also had ample opportunities to explore the city for ourselves, in our own time, taking in places of particular interest to each of us. This was particularly important as the trip will form the basis for our own research project, which generated an assessed presentation delivered in the Summer exam season. Indeed, the point of the trip is to identify the subject of your presentation, usually a work of art or architecture, then spend as much time as possible studying it at first hand, whilst still in Prague itself. For nothing compares to studying art objects in real life, and that is one of the joys of the trip!

However, studying works of art and buildings up close wasn’t the only joy and it wasn’t all academic study. We experienced the city’s other important offerings and highlights – cheap beer, hot wine and soup in bread bowls amongst them. We got lost on the tram and metro system; and let me tell you that, besides all the museum-going and walking, nothing gets you bonding with your peers quite like trying to figure out how, in planning to go from A to B on the metro, we’d actually ended up at Z. Another highlight was getting to know the lecturers more, and have fun with them exploring a foreign city. As cheesy as it is to say, I know that some of my fondest memories of being an art history student at Birmingham, as well as my closest friendships, were formed on the study trip to Prague. 

DEPARTMENTAL RESEARCH SEMINAR: 25 January

‘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

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

Abstract:
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: SET497@student.bham.ac.uk

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.

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DEPARTMENTAL RESEARCH SEMINAR: 30 NOVEMBER

‘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

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Abstract:
‘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: SET497@student.bham.ac.uk

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):

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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 “M.de 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) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/654701

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:

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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 ….

 

 

 

DEPARTMENTAL RESEARCH SEMINAR: 16 NOVEMBER

‘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

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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 http://www.images-art.fr

Abstract:
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: SET497@student.bham.ac.uk

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Abstract:
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: SET497@student.bham.ac.uk

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

JAMIE EDWARDS

Restorers

Restorers at work (image credit: kikirpa.be)

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 (!):

BRIGHTER SKIES

van-eyck-brighter-sky

Detail: Adoration of the Mystic Lamb cleaning test in sky; image credit: http://closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be

GREYER GRISAILLE

van-eyck-clearer-grisaille

Detail: John the Evangelist panel in grisaille; image credit: http://closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be

CLEARER, BRIGHTER DETAIL

van-eyck-brighter-clearer-detail

Detail: Virgin Enthroned; image credit: http://closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be

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: kikirpa.be)

Vijd's robe

Patches of overpaint removed from Vijd’s robe (image credit: kikirpa.be)

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:

ghent-altarpiece-2012

ghent-altarpiece-post-restoration

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

annunciation-2012

annunciation-restored

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

prophet-micah-2012

prophet-micah-restored

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):

patron-2

patron-1

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.

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