Researching The Courtauld Collections: Conservation and Art-Historical Analysis

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The Courtauld Collections

Conservation, Collecting and Art-Historical Analysis


‘Painting Pairs: Art History and Technical Study’ is a research opportunity for graduate students enrolled in the MA in the History of Art, MA in Curating the Art Museum and the PhD programme. Now in its sixth year, it gives selected students the opportunity to form a research partnership with future conservators from the postgraduate diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings. It is supported by the Sackler Research Forum, the Courtauld Gallery and the Department of Conservation and Technology.

Each pairing explores the contribution technical study can make to art historical scholarship (and vice versa) through research on a painting undergoing analysis or treatment in the Department of Conservation and Technology. The paintings are drawn from private and public collections, including the Courtauld Gallery. Past studies include: Portrait of Cardinal Granvelle by Scipione Pulzone, Toilet of Venus, circle of Veronese, Peter Lely’s Cimon and Iphigenia, Portrait of an Unknown Man, probably painted in Rome around 1612, Portrait of Francis Beaumont by an unknown 17th-century artist, Carnival Scene at the Convent by an unknown 18th-century artist, and a study after Goya.

Valuable experience is gained in the challenges and rewards of inter-disciplinary collaboration, which, although more familiar within a museum context, is becoming increasingly part of academic practice. Indeed, ‘Painting Pairs’ is at the forefront of initiatives that increase the links between technical and art historical enquiry and broaden the ways in which technical study can be applied.

Research is self-directed and a high degree of professionalism is expected. This is reflected in the fact that each participant receives an honorarium, with additional funds available if a study trip becomes necessary. Each pairing is required to set out their research questions at a workshop held in the Sackler Research Forum at the beginning of the spring term, and to present findings at a second workshop later in the year. Wider access to this research is enabled by the posting of an abstract and a project report on the Courtauld website. These collaborations can also lead to publications in peer-reviewed journals and the public display of paintings once confined to the storeroom.

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