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Research Projects

Staff in the School of Art History are active and enthusiastic researchers whose publications are recognized internationally as excellent. Our principal strengths lie in the areas of medieval and Renaissance art, in European and American modernism, the history of photography, and Gallery Studies. Please view our staff profiles for individual research interests and activities. Current projects include:

Daniele Barbaro (1514-70): In and Beyond the Text

Daniele Barbaro (1514-70) was one of the greatest intellectuals of his time and a prominent patron of artists and scholars, such as Palladio and Titian. A complex and multi-faceted personality, he published several books and left unpublished writings on a range of subjects, including philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, optics, history, music, and architecture. This international network put Barbaro under the lens of his writings, and adopting a cross-disciplinary approach, it provided a reassessment of this figure in the context of the European Renaissance.

The project involved a team of 40 international scholars which included academics, librarians, and curators. The participants presented their research at the two workshops, one held in St Andrews (4-5/09/2014), which focused on Barbaro’s manuscripts and printed works, his relations with printers and the context of book-printing in sixteenth-century Venice; and one and in Tours (21-22/04/2015), on the reception and influence of Barbaro’s writings in the European context in the sixteenth and following centuries. Five research papers on Barbaro’s work on perspective were presented at the final study day in Venice (29/01/2016), and eight essays containing substantial new materials will be published in a multi-authored book currently in preparation.

The project was coordinated by Dr Laura Moretti and was funded by a Leverhulme Trust International Network Grant.

Paolo Veronese

Image: Paolo Veronese, Portrait of Daniele Barbaro, 1556-67, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

 

Pierre Soulages: Radical Abstraction

Pierre Soulages’ uncompromising abstract paintings challenge the viewer to reflect on the meaning of an art without a recognisable image. Natalie Adamson’s research combines a close focus on the oeuvre of this singular artist with a broader contextual history of abstract painting since 1940.

Since 1946 the French artist Pierre Soulages (b.1919) has been making abstract paintings using all sorts of liquid pigments on different kinds of supports: oil or acrylic paint, tar, wood stain, ink, gouache and charcoal, on surfaces of glass, canvas, paper, linen and ceramic. He rejects traditional, small, fine-haired brushes for house painters’ brushes, hand-made scrapers and wooden gutters. The paintings exit the studio named by their medium, measurements and date of completion. Each work is thus inscribed into a precise moment in time and becomes part of a series of paintings that continues in the present day. This inscription of each work into historical time is the feature of Soulages’ work that guides the methodology for my project. One of my main aims is to provide a comprehensive account of Soulages’ lifetime of painting (as well as sculpture, printmaking, tapestry and stained glass), to describe and interpret the particular appearance of these confronting artworks.

Soulages is amongst the very few remaining witnesses to an art history that is yet to be accounted for by historians. In describing the unfolding of the artist’s work over time, Dr Natalie Adamson hopes to map what abstract painting signifies after 1940 – for the artist and the public. Abstraction does not mean a retreat from history or the public sphere for Soulages, who argues: ‘The world is not absent from the painting because its image – one of its images – is absent from the canvas’. Abstract art illustrates a changing set of social contexts of production and reception through – and because of – its apparent refusal to refer to the world. More broadly, this project seeks to overturn the banal recitation of groups, movements and periods – Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada, Pop, Minimalism, Conceptual Art, Contemporary Art – that are used to describe an era that has often trumpeted the ‘end of painting’. Recently Soulages asserted that the future ‘does not belong to me’. This book project intends to contradict the artist insofar as it shows the degree to which artworks exist in a temporal flux where history, tradition, and our contemporary moment dynamically interact.  

Dr Natalie Adamson is carrying out this project with the support of a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship

Soulage

Image: Serge Vandercam, Pierre Soulages in his Rue Schoelcher studio, Paris, 1949.

 

Touching Skin: Why Medieval Readers Rubbed and Kissed their Manuscripts

As literacy grew during the three centuries before the printing press, people learned not only how to read, but also how to handle their manuscripts. Certain physical gestures that readers enacted with illuminated manuscripts—including kissing or laying hands on certain images, and rubbing out the faces of others—imparted a ritual significance to books. Just as our twenty-first-century culture of ever-smaller screens has created a set of gestures and habits that had not previously existed (typing with two thumbs, scrolling, clicking, tapping), reading manuscripts, which were increasingly available in the late Middle Ages, also gave people a new set of physical gestures. In this project I consider the settings and circumstances by which readers learned to handle—and deface!—their manuscripts. I argue that people in authority, including priests, teachers, parents, and legal officials, touched books publicly to carry out rituals. In so doing, they inadvertently taught audiences how to handle books in highly physical ways. Cumulative wear in books testifies to how they were used and handled.

Kathryn M. Rudy conducted the research on this project as a Getty Residential Scholar at the Getty Centre in Los Angeles.  She continued working on this material as Humfrey Wanley Visiting Fellow at Bodleian Library, Oxford, in Spring 2016. The book will be published by the Getty.  

Touching skin

Image: Veronica with the Face of Christ, parchment painting in the Hours of Philip the Good. Brussels, Royal Library, Ms. 11035-37.