Laura Franchetti

PhD Candidate

Thesis: “‘Utterances of Physical Phenomena’: The Work of Frederic Leighton & Victorian Physics”

Supervised by Professor Caroline Arscott and Dr Gavin Parkinson

Funded by Consortium of the Humanities and the Arts South-East England Doctoral Scholarship (2018- Present)

My doctoral research focuses upon the work of the Victorian artist, Frederic Leighton (1830-1896). Through a detailed study of Leighton’s social life and personal artefacts, my research identifies a friendship that Leighton shared with the physicist, John Tyndall (1820-1893). In what is identified as his ‘aesthetic credo’, Leighton asserts that ‘art is the visual utterance of…physical phenomena’ (c.1871). Using the relationship between Leighton and Tyndall as its starting point, this thesis sets out to inquire what that statement may have meant to Leighton by exploring the ways in which Victorian physics informed or influenced his work. Each part takes as its starting point a topic from one of three books by Tyndall that Leighton owned – ‘Sound: Delivered in Eight Lectures’ (1867), ‘Fragments of Science’ (1871), and ‘Six Lectures on Light’ (1873)’–to investigate subsections of the artist’s oeuvre.

The thesis explores how the innovations of Victorian physics provided an empirical basis for the artistic exploration of prominent aesthetic themes such as physiological sensation, energy, transformation, liminal states and spaces, degeneration, transient phenomena, and bodily sensibility. It argues that Leighton’s mid-late works are phrased via imagery and theoretical concepts derived from Victorian physics, which provided him with a visual language that informs his aesthetic expression. In part, my research takes its lead from recent works of ‘cultural phenomenology’, which have adapted phenomenological philosophy for cultural studies. Rather than seeing the body as a product of dominant social constructions, I instead focus on its experiential dimensions as a physical entity shaped by the myriad forces and waves of energy in the Victorian aether.

Situating Leighton’s work within the context of Aestheticism, I employ approaches mapped out in recent theoretical work on cultural production and the sociology of texts to demonstrate how the discourse of Aestheticism was actively caught up with the ideological debates surrounding the materialism of contemporary physics.

My work forms part of a developing field of research seeking to redefine our understanding of the relationship between art and science; it argues that they should be seen as complementary enterprises both shaped by and shaping each other in a shared cultural landscape.


  • PhD History of Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art (2017 –Present)
  • MA History of Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art (2017)
  • MSt. History of Art Theory, University of Oxford, Christ Church (2014)
  • BA (Hons.) History of Art, University of Manchester (2012)

Awards, Grants, and Fellowships

  • Paul Mellon Centre Research Continuity Fellowship for the project ‘Utterances of Physical Phenomena: Victorian Physics & the Work of Frederic Leighton’ (2020-21)
  • CHASE Doctoral Studentship (2018-Present)
  • Lord Jacob Rothschild & The Rothschild Foundation Doctoral Scholarship, The Courtauld Institute of Art (2017-18)
  • The Courtauld Institute of Art Academic Scholarship (2016-17)
  • Undergraduate Dissertation Prize, University of Manchester (2012)

Other Professional Activities

  • Student Union Representative for Research Students (2020-21)
  • Associate Editor, immediations, (2020, 2021).
  • Social Media Manager, immediations, (2020, 2021).
  • Researcher for the Leighton House Museum Acquisitions Project (2019-20).
  • Archive Internship, Watts’ Gallery (2016).
  • Curatorial Assistant, ‘Up Close and Personal: Victorians and Their Photographs’, Watts Gallery (2016).

Research Interests

  • Late Victorian Art
  • Aestheticism
  • History of Nineteenth-Century Science (Physics, Biology, Psychophysiology)
  • Physiological Aesthetics
  • Art and Science
  • Fin-de-Siècle Art & Culture
  • Pre-Raphaelitism
  • History of Art Theories & Methodologies


  • 2018 – 2019: Teaching Assistant, Frameworks (BA2), The Courtauld Institute of Art.
  • 2018 – 2019: BA1 Undergraduate Supervisor, University of Cambridge (Clare Hall & Kings College).
  • 2018 – 2019: Teaching Assistant, History of Art Tripos: The Making of Art (BA1), University of Cambridge.
  • 2018 – 2019: Teaching Assistant, History of Art Tripos: The Meaning of Art & Architecture (BA1), University of Cambridge.


  • Franchetti, L. – ‘‘Suggesting the Sun Itself’: Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June (1895), Thermodynamics and the Heat-Death of the Sun’, Victoriographies, University of Edinburgh Press, (Forthcoming, 2021).
  • Franchetti, L. – ‘Through the Language of the Rococo: In Conversation with Flora Yukhnovich’, immediations, No. 17, (2020).

Conference Papers