Naomi Lebens - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Naomi Lebens

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Dr Naomi Lebens

Associate lecturer

I recently completed an AHRC-funded collaborative doctoral project, undertaken between The Courtauld Institute of Art and The Prints and Drawings Department of The British Museum. Entitled ‘Prints in Play’ its aim was to focus new attention on a rare body of early modern prints that were used in daily life. Taking my lead from the significant holdings of printed games at The British Museum, my thesis considered why games (which are typically seen as marginal or novelty objects in modern collections) were the site of such invention in early modern print.

My current research, developed from my doctoral thesis, continues to explore the use of play as a creative practice by early modern artists such as the ‘playful’ Bolognese painter, sculptor and printmaker Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (1634-1718). I am working on several publications developed from my doctoral research including essays and articles about Mitelli, the playing-cards of Stefano della Bella and Jean Desmarets, the geographic games of Pierre Duval and the political playing-cards of Francis Barlow. Geographically, my research covers early modern France, Italy, England and the Netherlands.

The course I am teaching on portraiture this year at The Courtauld reflects my ongoing interest in the fashioning of social identity, which has been central to my research on games. Outside of my work on play and games, portraiture is also one of my key ongoing interests. Whilst studying at The Courtauld, I have given papers about the portraiture of Queen Catherine of Braganza at Bangor University and the V&A as well as curating a display of drawings at The Courtauld Gallery presenting the English portrait artist Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680) as a draughtsman and collector of works on paper.


  • (October 2012 – August 2016), PhD, The Courtauld Institute of Art & The British Museum (Passed). Project title: ‘Prints in Play: Printed Games and the Fashioning of Social Roles in Early Modern Europe’. An AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award funded this research.
  • (2011- 2012), MA History of Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art (Distinction). Specialized in painting, drawing and print culture in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Europe. My dissertation subject was the ‘Popish Plot’ playing-cards produced c.1679 by the English wildlife painter and satirist, Francis Barlow.
  • (2008- 2011), BA History, Christ Church, University of Oxford (First Class). I was awarded a college exhibition and various prizes for my academic performance during my degree, including the J L Field Exhibition and the William Thomas Bursary. I was also awarded the Gladstone Prize for the best thesis at Christ Church (on the portraiture of Queen Catherine of Braganza).


  • Courtauld: This academic year I am leading a BA1 topic course entitled ‘The Possibilities of Portraiture’. Previously, I have taught at the institute as a visiting lecturer in the British Museum’s Prints and Drawings Department, as well as leading MA Methodology seminars and BA and Postgraduate Diploma seminars in ‘Seventeenth-Century Art’.
  • (September 2012 – Present) Gallery Educator, The Courtauld Gallery. As a gallery educator, I deliver a wide range of gallery-based learning for school, university and adult groups. I have also written for and edited educational resources packs to accompany temporary exhibitions in the gallery.
  • (January 2015- Present) Tutor, The Brilliant Club. As a Brilliant Club tutor, I work with small groups of high achieving students from non-selective state schools and deliver university-style tuition. The aim is to encourage these students to apply to highly selective universities. As part of a new collaboration between The Brilliant Club and The Courtauld’s Public Programmes Department, I have designed an art history course based on The Courtauld Gallery’s collection. This will be taught in state schools by Brilliant Club tutors across the country.

Research interests

  • sixteenth and seventeenth century painting and graphic arts
  • early modern print culture (fine art prints, popular prints, books, board games, playing cards, fans, fire-screens, masks, targets, trencher mats etc.)
  • play and games (as social practice and artistic method)
  • print collecting
  • portraiture
  • The work of Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (1634-1718)


  • Tatiana Bissolati, Bryony Bartlett-Rawlings & Naomi Lebens (eds.), Placing Prints: New Developments in the Study of Print, 1400-1800 (prospectus submitted, Brill).
  • ‘Changing Hands: Jean Desmarets, Stefano della Bella and the Jeux de Cartes’ in Robin O’Bryan & Ann A. Huse (eds.), Games and Game-Playing in Early Modern Art and Literature, (in progress, Medieval Institute Publications).
  • ‘“We Made a Blame Game of Your Game”: The ‘Dame Des Reynes’, Jean Desmarets and the Jeu des Reynes Renommées’, Early Modern Women (special edition on ‘Play, Games, and Performance’), 12.1 (2017) (in progress).

Conference and Seminar Papers:

  • (9 June 2016) Paragons and Paperbags: Early Modern Prints from The Consumer’s Perspective, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
    ‘Prints in Play: Games and Their Afterlives’
  • (5 March 2016) Shaping The Self: Print Culture and The Construction of Collective Identity (1460-1660), University of Warwick
    ‘A Space for Play: The Idea of the City and The Self in The Printed Games of Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (1634-1718)’
  • (26-27 February 2016), Serious Fun: Expressions of Play in The History of Art and Architecture, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
    ‘Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (1634-1718): Print, Games and The Artist at Play’
  • (5-6 March 2015) Courtauld Postgraduate Symposium 2015: Showcasing New Research (Co-Organizer)
    ‘Changing Hands: Jean Desmarets, Stefano Della Bella and The Jeux de Cartes (1644-1700)’
  • (1 July 2014) Representing Monarchy in Britain & Ireland, 1649-1714, Research Department Conference, Victoria & Albert Museum (Invited Speaker)
    ‘Catherine of Braganza: A Portuguese Princess in Print’
  • (25 April 2014) Thinking with Things, 1500-1940, Conference, Crassh, University of Cambridge
    ‘A World of Play: Printed Games in a Marketplace for Maps in Seventeenth-Century Paris’
  • (5 March 2014) Research Seminar Series, The British Museum
    ‘Enacting Education: Prints, Play and Didactic Games in Seventeenth-Century Europe’
  • (30 July 2013) The Image of Monarchy in Britain and Ireland, 1649-1714, Bangor Conference On the Restoration, Bangor University
    ‘Catherine of Braganza: A Portuguese Princess in Print’

Other academic activity

  • Head of Ars Graphica London, an international network for research in the graphic arts.
  • Volunteer at the British Museum’s Prints and Drawings Department, where an exhibition of works based on my doctoral research will be held in the Prints and Drawings Gallery in Autumn/Winter 2017.
  • Educator at The Courtauld Gallery
  • Freelance Lecturer
  • (12-13 February 2016) Placing Prints: New Developments in the Study of Print, 1400-1800, The Courtauld Institute of Art. Co-organized two-day international conference on the subject of renaissance and early modern print, accompanied by a pop-up display in The Courtauld’s Prints and Drawings Study Room.
  • (12 February 2015) In(ter)ventions: object histories outside and inside the museum, The British Museum. Co-organized workshop which brought together students, early career researchers and museum professionals to discuss objects with multiple roles and meanings
  • (5-6 March 2015) Courtauld Postgraduate Symposium 2015: Showcasing New Research. Co-organized the 2015 postgraduate symposium at The Courtauld Institute of Art.
  • (October 2013-May 2014) Curatorial Intern, The National Portrait Gallery, Making Art in Tudor Britain Research Project. Supported the project curator in preparing for a travelling exhibition organized between The National Portrait Gallery and the Musée du Luxembourg.
  • (January – September 2012) Print Room Assistant, The Courtauld Gallery. Curated an exhibition presenting the portraitist Sir Peter Lely as a draughtsman and prominent collector of prints and drawings.  This role also involved researching and cataloguing prints and drawings for the gallery database, preparing for classes and supervising visitors.

Recent grants

  • AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award (2012-2016): The Courtauld Insitute of Art/ The British Museum
  • Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art Séjour de Recherche à Paris (2015)
  • British Museum Research Department, travel grant to support archival research in Bologna (2015)


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