Using the Courtauld Gallery as a student

Hello. My name is Jacob and I’m a MA student at The Courtauld, specialising in the art of the Italian Renaissance. When I first enrolled at the Courtauld Institute as an undergraduate in 2018, the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House had just begun its renovation. For a few short months, the highlights of the collection were exhibited in the National Gallery as part of their Courtauld Impressionists exhibition, before being displayed in far-flung museums all over the world.  A global pandemic was no impediment to the hardened and determined tradesmen tasked with bringing new life to the old home of the Royal Academy and, in 2021, the Institute announced the Gallery’s grand re-opening. Now in my fourth year, I’d like to tell you all about my experiences of using the gallery, as well as the innumerable benefits it brings to my study.

Upon arriving at the Courtauld Gallery, the first thing you will notice is how peaceful the space is.  After I manfully manage to adjust to my serene surroundings (New England Beach Resorts would struggle to achieve the air of tranquility that permeates the gallery), I am reminded of the sheer variety of artworks the Gallery boasts. The works on show are examples of objects from the great periods in art’s history: such as the Middle Ages, the Renaissance in Italy, the Dutch Golden Age, British Academic painting, as well as French Impressionism and Expressionism. The Courtauld Gallery also enjoys an array of artworks in different media: such as altarpieces, ivories, metalwork, watercolours, caskets, pottery and photography. The assortment of different artworks is incredibly helpful for a study of art history because, by focusing on the works that haven’t enjoyed the same attention as those that have been considered ‘high art’, the art-historian begins to challenge and critique the notion of an accepted artistic cannon.

A further benefit of incorporating the Courtauld Gallery into your studies is the ability to see the artworks in person. Having finished my undergraduate degree at a time when museums, galleries and object study spaces were either closed or had limited access, it has been a blessing to be able to see works in the flesh. Whilst very helpful, digitised photographs of paintings and sculpture can only show us so much. When an artwork is viewed online, it is separated from all the other objects in the collection. This makes it difficult to shape visual comparisons; something which comes a great deal more naturally to an art-historian in a gallery. Furthermore, I’m always surprised when looking at an artwork in a museum after I’ve viewed it online beforehand because it’s supremely difficult to grasp the scale of an artwork and its presence within a room.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experiences with the Courtauld Gallery and how it has helped me in the postgraduate studies.

Tickets to the The Courtauld Gallery permanent collection are free for students and under-18s. Plan your visit here.

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