Professorial Lectures 2019

2019 Courtauld Professorial Lectures

The 2019 Sackler Lecture Series provides us with the opportunity to host a series of Courtauld Professorial Lectures. The purpose of this series is to celebrate and highlight research by a number of The Courtauld’s distinguished professors. In recent years, we have been pleased to see our speakers receive the title of Professor for their commitment to teaching, research and our institution. In addition to marking these achievements, the Courtauld Professorial Lectures serve to welcome both The Courtauld community and the public to our new (temporary) home at Vernon Square. From explaining why we should praise administrators instead of artists, to demonstrating what we can still learn from the English baroque, this series showcases world-class research from a team of eminent academics and, also, dear friends. 

“Don’t praise artists, praise administrators!” Byzantine bureaucracy as cultural creativity

15th January 2019 

Professor Antony Eastmond – The Courtauld Institute of Art

In this first instalment, Professor Antony Eastmond (Dean and Deputy Director; A. G. Leventis Professor in the History of Byzantine Art) will present a manifesto for the creative power of administration. Byzantium is synonymous with labyrinthine bureaucracy, underpinning a convoluted and devious political machine; its artistic culture is too often characterised as one in which innovation and change were stifled by faceless officeholders. I will argue that bureaucracy was a force for inventiveness in the medieval Mediterranean, shaping ideas about how art is created and interpreted, and playing a major role in establishing the visual world of Byzantium.

Professor Antony Eastmond read history at Oxford and whilst there he became increasingly intrigued by the possibilities of using art and material culture to write history. This was confirmed when he came to The Courtauld to take an MA in Byzantine art, and then a PhD in the art of medieval Georgia in the Caucasus.

Key themes in Antony’s work centre on the use of art to manufacture, display and manipulate identities on a public stage, especially on the frontera between religions and cultures.

Antony has taught at The Courtauld since 1995, after nine years in the art history department at the University of Warwick where he was Head of Department in his last two years.

His research is divided between topics in Late Antique and Byzantine art and topics relating to the Caucasus (Georgia and Armenia), and relations between the Christian and Islamic cultures there.

He has recently published a study of women and identity in eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus on the eve of the Mongol invasions in the thirteenth century – a region known as the land where three worlds meet.

Only Connect

5th February 2019

Professor Joanna Woodall – The Courtauld Institute of Art

Book Two of Leon Battista Alberti’s hugely influential treatise Della Pittura et della Statua (1435–1436) begins with a passage that has stayed with me throughout my career: ‘Painting has in itself a truly divine power, not only because, as is said of friendship, it lets the absent be present, but moreover because it causes the dead after many centuries to be almost alive, such that it is recognised with much admiration for the maker, and with much pleasure.’

My lecture will reflect on ways in which Alberti’s striking analogy between the power of painting and friendship as a connection between two embodied, responsive entities can inform our understanding of works of early modern art.

Joanna Woodall joined the academic staff of The Courtauld in 1986. A specialist in the visual and material culture of the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, her research interests focus on the issue of presence in material objects and the different ways in which embodied and situated users at particular historical moments valued and responded to specific works of art and artefacts. She has studied the importance of love and friendship to conceptions of art in this period and published extensively on portraiture, most importantly a monograph on Anthonis Mor in 2007. More recently, her interests have turned from love to money; she has produced a series of critical essays that explore parallels between the semiotic character of coins and of specific works of art. She is also concerned with the epistemological value of images and is currently co-editing with Thomas Balfe and Claus Zittel a volume entitled ‘Ad Vivum? Visual materials and the vocabulary of life-likeness in Europe before 1800’ (Intersections, Brill, 2019).

Engaging with Sienese Painting through time

12th February 2019

Professor Joanna Cannon – The Courtauld Institute of Art

This lecture takes three approaches to the theme of time and Sienese painting of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  First, focusing on a single painting, I will reflect on some of the developments in the study of Early Sienese Painting over the course of the last fifty years. Next, I will consider some of the ways in which Sienese artists manipulated time as a powerful tool with which to engage their viewers. These artists were not constrained by the need to adhere to a single, logical system.  On the contrary, the eternal and the momentary could coexist in an image, just as the instantaneous, the lengthy, and the repetitive, could all form aspects of a viewer’s experience of the same object.   This lecture will explore what the visual analysis of the works themselves might tell us about how certain Sienese images employed different aspects of time:  the immediate past, the sequential, the simultaneous,  and, in particular, anticipation.  Finally, and briefly, I will raise the question of whether the devices used in these works can still connect with viewers across a temporal gap of over seven centuries.  Can we still engage with Sienese paintings through time?

Joanna Cannon has published widely on aspects of later-medieval Italian art, especially art and the orders of friars in central Italy. Her book Religious Poverty, Visual Riches: Art in the Dominican Churches of Central Italy in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, published by Yale University Press in 2013, was shortlisted for the Apollo Book of the Year award.  She was the editor, with Jo Kirby and Susie Nash, of Trade in Artists’ Materials: Markets and Commerce in Europe to 1700 (Archetype, 2010) and was the co-author, with André Vauchez, of Margherita of Cortona and the Lorenzetti (Penn State Press, 1999).  Together with Caroline Campbell of the National Gallery and Stephan Wolohojian of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she is co-curating an exhibition of Sienese Art before 1400, to be held in New York in Autumn 2021, and London in 2022.

Buildings in Bits: Lessons from the English Baroque

15th May 2019 

Professor Christine Stevenson – The Courtauld Institute of Art

The ‘English Baroque’ was an economic phenomenon more than a stylistic one. Construction was the second-biggest industry in London, and much went on elsewhere, too, but few people made their livings as architects in our sense. Design was an activity, an ad-hoc role. Many figures today identified as carvers, masons, and so on turned their hands to it in the course of shifting and varied production affiliations driven (commentators agreed) by individual self-interest. Competition was identified as a powerful driver of progress in the building trades, and so was the conspicuous architectural consumption that demanded equally conspicuous production, and producers. Descriptions of the carver Grinling Gibbons’s ornament, for example, suggest that what Michael Baxandall called ‘qualitative self-differentiation’ formed part of artisanal career strategies. In terms of both money and praise, this is, Gibbons’s work was valued not only for what it was, but because he had made it.

Is a building, then, only the sum of its many commodified parts, an accumulation of the products of more-or-less skilled and famous hands, both local and far away? Yes, early modern England would have answered: that is how one valued a building. Suggestively, it used architecture metaphorically, to explain the global economic order as the cumulative result of individual human strivings, not of design or regulation. Very soon, however, the country arrived at something approximating the modern condition. English architects became author-architects, and ambitious artisans were no longer subjects of interest.


From invention to inventory: object lessons from the courts of France

24th April 2019 

Professor Susie Nash – The Courtauld Institute of Art

In the late 14th century, the kings of France and the princes of the blood constructed, commissioned,  purchased, gave, appropriated,  pawned and liquidated some of the most extraordinary and magnificent objects of the late medieval period, in a dizzying range of forms and material, from metalwork, manuscripts, textiles  and panel paintings to cameos, talismanic stones and giants teeth. Our knowledge of them today relies in large part on the extraordinarily loquacious, often ad vivam inventories made of these possessions, termed, collectively, ‘joyaux’.  These inventories are arguably the largest body of  descriptive responses to objects that we have from the late medieval period, often demonstrating, and demanding,  an intimate and sustained attention to, and engagement with, visual form. This lecture will consider some of the ways in which the language, order and structure of these texts might provide insights into late medieval ways of assessing, judging and grasping things, of  ‘reading’ objects, or what has been termed by Michael Baxandall, famously, the ‘period eye’. But it will also explore these inventories  as objects in their own right: their often remarkable physical properties can be as revealing as the texts they contain.