From Elbows and Bottoms to Leonardo and the London Town House!

A couple of follow ups to my last blog posting to start…

A fortnight ago, I issued a plea to current students to respond to the invitations which have been popping up in inboxes, and to complete the various student surveys which are now live. We are very keen to get your feedback – it’s important to us to elicit the fullest response, from as many students as we possibly can. I confess I do get somewhat competitive about this as Head of Department, as the College sends us weekly updates on how our response rate to the National Student Survey is looking, compared to other departments across Birkbeck. Last week, we were running third, which was a great achievement – but I have aspirations for us to be higher!

I’m delighted also to be able to give you some more information about our upcoming Murray Memorial Lecture, on Tuesday 15th March at 6pm, following my ‘save the date’ notice. We host this biannual lecture in honour of Peter Murray, Professor of History of Art at Birkbeck from the mid 1960s through to 1980. We’ve been honoured with some very distinguished speakers over the years, including Simon Schama, Neil MacGregor, Penelope Curtis and Christopher Frayling. Our speaker next month will be Professor Professor Patricia Rubin, Judy and Michael Steinhardt Director at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She will be delivering a lecture entitled: ‘Bent Elbows, Bare Bottoms, and Bending Meanings: Shifting Perspectives on Viewing the Male Body in Art’. Here’s some more information from Professor Rubin, in case that title isn’t sufficiently enticing in its own right!

As sharp as the crooked elbow and as shapely as the male buttocks can be, these eye-catching body parts can also unhinge fixed readings of their messages in art. Over time their postures have been seen as courtly and camp, as virile and effeminate. Soliciting attention, the nature of that attention raises questions about the meanings that they suggest and that have been suggested over time. Both are put into poses that pose questions about the ways that men look, what they look like and what sort of liking is involved in looking. Rubin picture

The Murray Memorial Lecture is a big event for the History of Art department, bringing together students past and present, together with academic staff past and present, and a variety of friends and colleagues from outside the College. Do follow the eventbite link now, to reserve your free place – all are very welcome!


In my last posting, I alerted you to the first in the Architecture, Space and Society Centre’s new ‘Thinkers in Architecture’ lecture series, being given by Professor Norbert Nussbaum. This time, I’d like to tell you about another new series of events the Centre has just launched: ‘New Books’. These events will engage with important books being published on the history, theory and cultural contexts of architecture. The first is being given by Owen Hopkins, a writer, historian and curator of architecture, and Architecture Programme Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts. On Friday 4th March, at 6pm (Keynes Library), he will be coming to Birkbeck to talk about his new book on Nicholas Hawksmoor and his myths, From the Shadows: The Architecture and Afterlife of Nicholas Hawksmoor, just published by Reaktion. This is a lively and detailed history of Hawksmoor’s work, which also looks at the ways in which it has been seen by a variety of observers over the nearly three centuries since his death. Following Owen’s talk, Professor Barry Curtis from the Royal College of Art will be giving a response. As with the Murray Lecture, the event is free and open to all, but registration is required.



Finally, reminders about two upcoming conferences being organised by Birkbeck and the National Gallery, together with a number of other collaborators. Towards the end of last year, I mentioned that Dr. Juliana Barone, an Associate Research Fellow in the School of Arts, is organising a conference entitled ‘Leonardo in Britain: Collections and Reception’, taking place from 25th to 27th May 2016. I’m delighted to say that tickets are now available for this major event. It will explore the important role and impact of Leonardo’s paintings and drawings in key British private and public collections, and also look at the broader British context of the reception of his art and science, addressing selected manuscripts and the first English editions of his ‘Treatise on Painting’. The conference is taking place in a number of venues, but Birkbeck is hosting the opening lecture, being given by Professor Martin Kemp from the University of Oxford (5.30pm, 25th May, Clore Lecture Theatre): ‘Spinning a yarn or two: Leonardo’s two matching Madonnas’.

The other upcoming conference being organised in collaboration with the National Gallery is very close to my heart – one of my projects! I wrote in my first blog of the year about ‘Animating the Georgian London Town House’, taking place on 17th March 2016, in the Sainsbury Wing Lecture Theatre. I know a number of you have already registered for this event, and it would be great to see lots of familiar faces from Birkbeck in the audience. We’re going to begin the day with a keynote lecture by Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of The Queen’s Pictures, speaking about Carlton House. Speakers will then discuss a range of town houses from the period, from grand London ‘palaces’ such as Cleveland House and Norfolk House, through to lesser known residences such as 18, Arlington Street, a Gothic revival town house commissioned by the Countess of Pomfret. The day will end with Drs Adriano Aymonino and Manolo Guerci giving us a two-hander on Northumberland House, built in the early seventeenth century, and demolished in 1874. They will be looking at the tenure of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland  which saw the creation of some of the most lavish interiors of Georgian London. The house also, fascinatingly, became the venue for the Duchess’s private ‘Museum’, which acted as a proto academy for selected artists and connoisseurs. Do come along if you can!

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The Season of the Survey – and an important date for your diaries

Students who were also with us last year will remember that, in late January, we enter the Season of the Survey! Birkbeck participates in and run a variety of surveys, and final year undergraduates will have recently been contacted about the National Student Survey. I know that doing one of these can seem like a chore, but it really is vital for us that everyone asked to complete the survey does so. It doesn’t take long, and it gives us crucial feedback on how we’re doing: on what we’re doing well (for more on which, do take a look at and on what we can improve. The more we can learn about your views, and about your experiences of studying at Birkbeck, the better. Non-final-year undergraduates will be invited to participate in the Birkbeck Student Survey, whilst Postgraduate Taught students will be contacted about the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey.

I’m pleased to be able to tell you about a couple of recent celebrations of the achievements of staff and students! Andre Nelson-Williams, one of our second year undergraduates, has won an inspirational young person award, for his community work and art – congratulations Andre! And, on Thursday last week, in the Keynes library, Dr. Fiona Candlin celebrated the launch of her new book, Micromuseology. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll remember that Fiona wrote a piece for us at the end of last term, outlining the work she’s conducted on small, independent, single-subject museums: institutions such as the Museum of Witchcraft. In her book, Fiona explores how ‘micromuseums’ challenge our preconceived ideas about what museums are and how they operate. I was personally disappointed not to be able to raise a glass to Fiona on the evening (a double teaching session with students on my ‘Portraiture in England in the Long Eighteenth Century’ course – they showed impressive stamina for three hours!) – but here’s a lovely photo of Fiona, celebrating her achievement with Dr. Joanne Morra, Reader in Art History and Theory at Central St Martins, and Dr. Irving Finkel, Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian Script, Languages and Cultures at the British Museum.


As ever, I have more upcoming events to tell you about. The next event being organised by the Architecture, Space and Society Centre is a week today (5pm, 12th February, Keynes Library). Norbert Nussbaum, from the University of Cologne, will be delivering a lecture entitled ‘From the Belly of the Architect’. This is the first in the Centre’s Thinkers in Architecture series, which is bringing prominent architectural historians, critics and thinkers to Birkbeck, to give extended talks about issues emerging from their research. It’s going to be a great pleasure for the College to welcome Professor Nussbaum, a distinguished architectural historian and author of seminal studies on German medieval architecture and Gothic vaults. He is also deeply engaged with contemporary architectural issues, as well as the investigation, reconstruction and conservation of buildings. This is a free event, but you do need to register for a place.


As you’ll know, one of the key organisers of the ASSC is Dr. Leslie Topp. Leslie left London a couple of days ago to head over to Washington DC, and the College Art Association annual conference. Leslie’s giving a paper entitled ‘The Habsburg Asylum and Visual Imagery: Exposure and Transparency’, as part of a panel on ‘Modernism and Medicine’. This draws on work conducted for her book, Freedom and the Cage: Modern Architecture and Psychiatry in Central Europe, 1890-1914, to be published by Penn State University Press next year.

Another forthcoming public event is of particular importance to, and a source of pride for the History of Art department. Every other year, we host the Murray Memorial Lecture, in honour of Peter Murray, Professor of History of Art at Birkbeck between 1967 and 1980, responsible for establishing History of Art as an undergraduate discipline in the College. The next Murray lecture will be taking place on Tuesday 15th March, at 6pm, and will be delivered by Professor Patricia Rubin, Judy and Michael Steinhardt Director at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She’s going to be giving a lecture with the very enticing title: ‘Bent Elbows, Bare Bottoms, and Bending Meanings: Shifting Perspectives on Viewing the Male Body in Art’.  Absolutely not to be missed! The Murray lecture is always a major event for our department, bringing together past, present and prospective students, so please do save the date. I’ll be able to give you more details about how to register a place in my next blog….

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