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!