New graduates, a day trip to Eton – and ‘Mr Turner’ again….

Congratulations are in order!

The most important recent news in the History of Art department is the undergraduate graduation ceremony which took place last week, on 11th November. Many, many congratulations to all our new BA History of Art graduates – we’re very proud of you!

graduation hats

(a rather cheesy picture I know, but hard to resist a ‘graduation hats in the air’ opportunity)

Mr Turner again….

I began my last blog by telling you that one of our alumna, Dr. Jacqueline Riding, who did her MA in History of Art at Birkbeck some years ago, had acted as historical and art historical consultant on Mike Leigh’s new film, Mr. Turner. I was delighted to be promptly emailed by one of our current MA students, Sarah McBryde, informing me that she had worked as production manager on the film! Sarah has kindly written a short piece for us about the experience…

“Having worked with Mike Leigh since 2003, I’m familiar with his approach to film-making. However, the subject of JMW Turner presented some new and interesting challenges. As usual, the actors worked with Mike to develop their characters and storylines during months of intensive rehearsals prior to filming, appropriately based in the former Central School of Art on Southampton Row. The obvious difference with Mr. Turner was that most of the characters were based on real individuals, so the input of various art historians, notably Dr Jacqueline Riding, was vital to Mike’s meticulous research process. In fact, the scope of Jackie’s advice extended way beyond art history, encompassing everything from historically accurate vocabulary to 19thC stethoscopes.  We were incredibly fortunate to have assistance and advice from institutions and galleries in the UK and across the world, many of whom also generously gave their permission for us to replicate the innumerable artworks. The results can be seen in the reconstructions of the Royal Academy Exhibitions filmed at Wentworth Woodhouse, South Yorkshire. The added challenge of making a period production on a relatively small budget resulted in some imaginative solutions. For example the historic boats which feature in the Margate sequences (filmed at Kingsand, Cornwall) weren’t added in post production, as someone recently asked me. Our Art Director rowed his way around Plymouth harbour, knocking on the hull of anything suitable and asking if they wouldn’t mind mooring up off Kingsand for the price of a few bacon sandwiches. It worked perfectly, apart from the occasional Royal Navy submarine unexpectedly surfacing mid-shot!

Having already spent a year immersed in Turner and Art History, it seemed a logical step for me to continue onto the Graduate Certificate at Birkbeck and now the MA…”

Our students out and about once more

Following Fiona Candlin’s lovely picture of Museum Cultures students at the V&A, I am very pleased to be able to post another photograph of our students, out and about on a field trip. Last week, Dr. Joanne Anderson, Lecturer in Renaissance Art, and those BA History of Art students taking her option course on ‘Italian Mural Painting’ visited Eton College Chapel. Here’s Joanne’s account of the trip:

“On Monday 10 November we were warmly welcomed by Dr Nicola Pickering, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art to Eton College Chapel. She gave a brief introduction and then the students had an opportunity to look at the fifteenth-century mural painting in the nave of the chapel before we had a group discuss about their making, meaning and afterlife. In the final 20 minutes of our allotted time, we visited the master’s chamber to see a recently rediscovered early 16th-century mural depicting the master in cathedra, holding a book and the birching rod – symbols of his authority – surrounded by his charges on forms. We were also permitted to visit the original teaching room next door, which is still in use today. We couldn’t take any photographs inside but here’s the class assembled in School Yard!

Eton 2

The chapel was founded by Henry VI but we have Bishop William Waynefleet to thank for its completion, and the commissioning of the monumental mural scheme that served College instructors and clergy, pupils, pilgrims and parishioners. His effigy is recorded on the exterior west wall, holding a model of the chapel.”Eton 4

New Peltz Exhibition

A new exhibition has just opened in the Peltz gallery in the School of Arts: ‘How We Read: A Sensory History of Books for Blind People’. The exhibition will be on for one week only, from 17-23 November 2014, and is part of the Being Human Festival, the UK’s first national festival of the humanities. How We Read explores the history of assistive technologies that have been designed to help blind people read. From raised print to talking books and optophones, a fascinating array of historic artefacts are on display from museums and other centres dedicated to preserving the heritage of blindness. Please do visit to look, touch and listen: among the star items are the first examples of raised print books published in Britain, and a mid-twentieth century optophone – a device which translated the printed page into sound (you can hear an example of an optophone in action as well). For more details of the exhibition, and related activities, workshops and live performances, do look at the website.