The joy of Arts Week – and the pain of exams….

There are a number of hot topics in the History of Art department at the moment. One is, of course, the undergraduate exams – which kick off for our BA programme on 18th May. Those up first are students who have taken the level 5 module ‘Art and Architecture in Europe 1250-1400’, and Michael Douglas-Scott’s level 6 option, ‘Art in Renaissance Venice c 1475-1530’. We wish you all the very best in the final stages of revising, and in the exams themselves. I can still remember sitting in examination halls, as a BA History of Art student at the University of Warwick, worrying about whether I was going to recognise the images I would see when I turned over the paper in front of me! It’s a feeling that’s hard to forget…

18th May also sees the start of Birkbeck Arts Week, so – whether you’re not one of those experiencing exam pain, or are, and want to secure yourself some welcome breaks from the books – it’s time to go onto the website (if you haven’t already) and book your free places. Some of the lectures, performances, screenings and workshops are filling up fast, so do get in there while you can. From ‘Curiosity’ to ‘Renaissance Ways of Seeing’, ‘Globalization’ to ‘Photographs of London’,’Vasari Centre Past and Future’ to (of course!) ‘Talking Mr Turner’, it’s a richly packed programme.

Other events continue apace, including the Murray Seminar on Medieval and Renaissance Art. Yesterday saw Zoe Opacic speaking about the later medieval cult of Mary Magdalene in Central Europe, and the next in the series is Dr Ioanna Christoforaki, from the Academy of Athens, on ‘Cherchez les Franciscains: Friars, Icons and Devotion on Venetian Crete’ (Wednesday 27th May, 6pm, room 112, Gordon Square). If you’ve been in the department for a while, you will have become familiar with the Murray name, as a Bequest established in memory of Professor Peter Murray supports a number of our activities. Some of those on the recent field trip to Florence with Joanne Anderson and Zuleika Murat were awarded bursaries from the fund, to help with their costs. We look forward in the next few weeks to awarding the Murray research studentship, which will support a PhD student working in the field of European Art or Architecture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. And next year we will welcome another notable scholar to give the biennial Murray Memorial lecture, following on from illustrious names such as Jonathan Miller, Simon Schama, Neil Macgregor and Christopher Frayling.

Peter Murray is one of the great names of the department, along with Sir Nikolaus Pevsner. It was Murray who established History of Art as an undergraduate discipline in the College, although the subject was first taught here by Pevsner. Birkbeck tends to keep people for many years, and Murray was no exception: he was Professor here from 1967 through to 1980. When he died, in 1992, his widow, Linda Murray, established the Bequest, and it has helped to support our teaching and research ever since. Linda Murray was an important art historian in her own right, and you may well know the Dictionary of Art and Artists which she and Peter co-authored.

I shall end this blog post with a youtube link, to a piece of film in which Dr Sarah Thomas, who has been working in the department for a couple of years now, gives a short curatorial speech from Trafalgar Square on the event of the opening of her exhibition, Colonial Afterlives (Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, 19 March – 27 April 2015; touring Australia 2016-2017). Many of you know Sarah from her teaching on BA courses such as ‘Introduction to Modern Art’ and ‘Art and Society in the Nineteenth Century’, and from the very successful MA Option module, ‘Art and the British Empire’, which she ran last year. Enjoy!