A blogpost for reading week

I hope you’re all enjoying reading week. I spoke recently to a colleague at another university (which shall remain nameless) – she told me they’d abolished reading week, which seemed like cruel treatment, of both staff and students!

Once you’re back you’ll want to be joining these exciting events:

On Friday 1 March, 6-8pm, the Centre for Museum Cultures welcomes Professor Wendy Shaw Professor of the Art History of Islamic cultures at the Free University Berlin to give a talk entitled ‘Museums and Islamic Art: Whose Culture? Whose Colony?’, Gordon Sq room B04. This talk examines how Islamic art history emerges from methodological art historical layers, and becomes globalised in the modern era, both as a representation of Islam and as a representation of power, ultimately to ask how our rich collections might also speak otherwise. Further details and a booking link here.

And also on 1 March, during the day, the ASSC presents a fascinating symposium ‘Conquest and Construction: Architecture and Landscapes in the Medieval Mediterranean’. Much recent scholarship on the medieval Mediterranean focuses on shifting borders and cultural identities. Conquest is one of the causes of such shifts. This one-day symposium will examine how the consequences of conquests were manifested in conquered cities and landscapes, asking how conquerors responded to their new environments and how conquered communities were built and re-built. Featuring a keynote talk by Leonie Hicks (Canterbury Christ Church University): ‘Landscapes of Conquest: Southern Italian Norman Chronicles and Other Animals’. More here.

Please mark  8 March 6pm in your diary, when the ASSC will welcome its latest ‘Thinker in Architecture’, Caroline van Eck (University of Cambridge), who’ll be speaking on ‘Changing Objectscapes, Mediterranean Connectivity and the Emergence of the Empire Style in Rome and Paris.’ More here.

Our current and past students are as busy, creative and productive as ever:

Jo Cottrell is a PhD student in the department working on women and Vorticism. She did her BA and MA in the History of Art at Birkbeck, and has worked for 25 years as an arts consultant in London. She also regularly shares her passion for art as a volunteer guide for Tate.  Jo reports on a very exciting commission she’s received:

‘I’ve been commissioned to write an essay for the catalogue for a forthcoming exhibition at the Barbican, details here: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2019/event/into-the-night-cabarets-clubs-in-modern-art  ‘Into the Night’ will explore the social and artistic role of twentieth-century cabarets, cafes and clubs, proposing an alternative history of artistic production by highlighting how specific sites offered platforms for experimentation and the exchange of ideas between artists, architects, designers, writers, dancers and musicians. My essay will focus on the Cabaret Theatre Club/Cave of the Golden Calf, which I focused on for my MA dissertation, but am also revisiting as part of a chapter of my PhD.’

Helen Saunders, Cabaret, c.1913. Courtauld Institute of Art

Zoe Hollingworth, a recent MA History of Art graduate, tells us about her new job at the V&A and how her work placement on the MA put her in pole position to get it:

‘One of my motivations for applying for the History of Art MA at Birkbeck was to take advantage of the work placement. Despite being in full time employment, I had a very understanding manager and for two days a week I worked in the archive of the Bishopsgate Institute. While there I catalogued photographs, pamphlets, journals, and other social history ephemera, learning a bit about the various roles within an archive and gaining an insight into the incredible team at the Bishopsgate.

This work gave me the necessary experience to apply for a job at the Victoria and Albert Museum as a Senior Documentation Officer working with the collections management system. The guidance provided by Birkbeck’s Careers Service, especially the CV builder, and the support I received from the placement module convener, Sarah Thomas, resulted in my getting an interview. Lots of research and preparation for the interview resulted in an offer and I accepted!

Working with the V&A has been an amazing experience so far. There is an incredible array of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and interests working across the museum helping to bring the V&A’s collections to the public. My role supports these people who work behind the scenes and it’s been very rewarding. Since starting, I’ve been promoted into a managerial role and have been guiding the museum through a new digital asset management system. I hope to embark on a PhD in the next couple years, but my intention is to stay with V&A for as long as possible!’

Zoe after chairing a meeting in the V&A boardroom

A third report from Leslie Primo, who did his BA History of Art and MA Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck, on an upcoming media appearance:

‘I will be a guest on the upcoming Radio 4 programme –  Moving Pictures – to be broadcast at 11.30 on Tues 12 Mar where I’ll be a guest discussing the National Gallery painting Adoration of the Magi by Jan Gossaert with Kathy Fitzgerald and her other guests. The programme will be repeated at 15:30 on Sat 16 Mar. You can also read my article on the theme of the Adoration of the Magi available on the Art UK website: https://bit.ly/2PFXQnb’

Let these three be an inspiration to you, and send me news of yourselves and your art-history-related activities for future posts!






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Venice, Bedlam, prizes and studentships!

I begin with a brilliant piece of news which is also an opportunity for those of you considering MA study in the department. For the past three years, we have been able to award Wallace studentships to MA students in the department who demonstrate both academic excellence and financial need. Thanks to a further very generous donation by Graham and Denise Wallace, we can now offer the Wallace studentships for a further five years. We are really really pleased about this, as you can imagine – the studentships attract excellent students to our popular MA programmes who would otherwise not be able to afford to come here. You can find out more about the studentships, as well as about other funding available for post-graduate study in the School of Arts here. Remember too that we’re currently accepting applications for our two new MA programmes: MA History of Architecture and MA History of Photography, as well as MA History of Art and MA Museum Cultures. The Wallace studentships support full-time study on any of these programmes by Home/EU students.

Kudos to Professor Kate Retford, whose book The Conversation Piece: Making Modern Art in 18th-Century Britain has just won the Historians of British Art prize for Exemplary Scholarship on the Period between 1600-1800! The jury commented: ‘Retford argues that the conversation piece played a key role in articulating familiar networks and social norms in Georgian Britain. Notions of politeness and performance take on renewed resonance, and Retford’s book will undoubtedly become the now-standard reference on the topic.’

Facing the Text: Extra-Illustration, Print Culture, and Society in Britain, 1769-1840, by Lucy Peltz, who is Honorary Research Fellow in the department, has won in the post-1800 category, so it’s good news all round for Birkbeck.

A few upcoming events to mention:

Are you interested in exploring your options for employment after you have completed your degree? Are you wondering what kind of work you can do with a degree in History of Art? If so, come to our employability event on Thursday 7 February 2019, 6-7:30, MAL 402. It will feature the presence of Gabriel Toso, who did a BA in History of Art at Birkbeck, talking about his work experience. Gabriel is currently the  manager of Whitford Fine Art, one of London’s leading international art galleries, specialising in European and British 20th Century painting and sculpture. Book here.

Also coming up is a screening and discussion co-sponsored by Birkbeck and the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. Un Oeil, Une Histoire is a series of French-made films, each focused on an influential art historian. On Saturday 9 February, 1-4pm, in the Birkbeck Cinema, we will be screening the films on Svetlana Alpers and Georges Didi-Huberman, followed by a panel discussion and reception. This event is sold out – if you’ve booked a place and can no longer attend, please do cancel your booking to free up a place for someone else.

A notice too about a lecture this Tuesday 5 February 6pm organised by our affiliated society, the London Art History Society. Katherine Cuthbert, an artist and art historian who is a graduate of the MA History of Art, will be lecturing on the ‘Triumphs and Laments’ project by William Kentridge, a South African artist, which is a ‘reverse graffiti’ frieze covering a 550 metre stretch of the Tiber embankment walls in Rome. Katherine worked with Kentridge on the project during a placement in Rome while she was on the MA. Book here.

Anna Jamieson, PhD Student in History of Art, leads the next meeting of the Birkbeck Eighteenth-Century Reading Group, on the topic ‘The Sentimental Look in the Asylum: Henry Mackenzie and Sophie von La Roche at Bedlam’ on Wednesday 13th February, 12-2pm, Gordon Square room 106. Anna will introduce two texts which describe visiting Bethlem Royal Hospital, commonly known as Bedlam, during the latter decades of the eighteenth century: Henry Mackenzie’s novel The Man of Feeling (1771) and Sophie von la Roche’s diary entry of her visit in 1786. All welcome. For copies of the texts please contact Kate Retford: k.retford@bbk.ac.uk.

Finally, some exciting news from an alumna: Gaia Penteriani has been appointed trustee of the Venice in Peril Fund, a UK charity which raises funds for the conservation of monuments, works of art and buildings across the city of Venice and its islands. Gaia has recently completed the MA in History of Art, with a focus on theoretical and empirical issues related to the preservation of art and architecture, in particular in Venice, so this appointment is a very fitting continuation to her studies and interests. Recent campaigns of the Fund range from the conservation of illuminated choir books from the city’s churches, a project to reassemble a Venetian palace’s ceiling, a 17th-century garden statue of an elephant and plans for the Armstrong Mitchell Crane, a masterpiece of Victorian engineering which soars above the Arsenale skyline.

Armstrong Mitchell Crane, Venice, photo Michael Harding

In support of its conservation work, Venice in Peril also promotes a deeper understanding of Venice – its complex history, the contribution it has made to world culture and the challenges it faces today – to encourage responsible and informed engagement with the city, through a programme of lectures, publications and research grants. You can find out more about the Fund, its projects and events programme here.

More on alum activities in my next post – and more on Venice in due course too!



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