Anita Sganzerla, Print and Drawings Study Room Assistant
Over the past few months I have been in charge of setting up a new display in The Courtauld Prints and Drawings Room.
After some thinking, I decided to draw upon The Courtauld’s rich collection of portraits in various print media, and to look at the theme of artists’ portraits.
From this vast subject I selected examples from two series: the Pictorum aliquot celebrium, præcipué Germaniæ Inferioris, effiges (Effigies of some famous painters, especially of Lower Germany; The Hauge, 1610) and the Museum Florentinum exhibens insigniora vetustatis monumenta quae Florentiae sunt (Florentine Museum exhibiting noteworthy monuments of antiquity that are in Florence; Florence, 1731-1766).
The Effigies series was published in The Hague in 1610. These prints are not all based on existing designs, and some of the artists’ likenesses were commissioned specifically for this series.
In contrast, the Museum Florentinum prints, published in Florence between 1731 and 1766, are reproductions of artists’ self-portraits from the collection of the Medici Grand Dukes in Florence (now part of the holdings of the Uffizi Gallery).
I have written two wall panels to provide brief introductions to each series as well as a few observations on selected prints. As my field of research is prints and print culture, I hope I have given some insight into the works as printed objects.
One of my favourite works in the display is the Museum Florentinum print after a Self-portrait by the painter Luca Cambiaso (1527-1585).
Cambiaso represented himself in the act of painting his father and teacher, the artist Giovanni.
We could say that here Luca has created a double self-portrait as the composition shows his face at it looks in the present and also as it will be in old age.
I think that the subtle tonal range of each figure’s facial features are skillfully captured in this print.
Now that the display is up I look forward to people exploring and enjoying it – remember that prints have a lot to say if you take the time to observe them closely.
Find out more about Hendrick Hondius the Elder’s Pictorum aliquot celebrium, præcipué Germaniæ Inferioris, effiges (The Hague, 1610), which contains 68 portrait prints of Netherlandish artists.
If you would like to see Anita’s print display, pay a visit to the Prints and Drawings RoomCategories: Displays | Tags: drawings, prints, self-portrait | Leave a comment
Illuminating Objects is a series of displays that shines a light on unexpected objects from the decorative arts and sculpture collection through partnerships with SOAS, King’s College London, the University of Kent in Canterbury, Imperial College and University College London.
Josephine Neil, PhD Student at King’s College London
Curating the the Küslins’ Bible was an attractive prospect for me as I have an academic background in Prints and printmaking and my current PhD is in Theology and the Arts.
Delving into the Protestant devotional context of Augsburg and seeing how it influenced their pictorial compositions has been an exciting opportunity.
When I first looked at this pair of miniature Bibles, I was amazed by their near perfect condition, given that they were primarily used as supports in spiritual contemplation which would mean they would have been used regularly.
In addition to limited factual documentation on the books, I soon established that finding out any information concerning the Küslin sisters themselves was going to be a tricky task – in this early stage of my research I only found one reference to them!
However, research on thumb Bibles, their function and German printmakers luckily proved to be more fruitful.
I spent a lot of time emailing many specialists and worldwide libraries, which had other sets of the Küslins’ Bible, to see what information could be found – the results confirmed I was working on some unique objects!
I also worked with The Courtauld’s Conservation team to find out about the physical make-up of the books and the cleaning had brought the silverwork back to their former glory.
Looking at the Bibles under the microscope and seeing the details of the clasps and the engravings of the putti on the mounts emphasised the pain-staking work that went into making these beautiful objects. Even the detail on the small engraved crosses was made to look like wood-grain.
The Courtauld’s Paper Conservator Kate Edmondson also gave me an insight as to which parts of the picture books were likely later additions, and the question arose as to how much of these books could definitively be dated to late seventeenth century Augsburg.
For example, the silk headbands sewn into the structure of the book to protect the top and bottom may have been re-done in the Victorian period when the books were likely to have been re-bound.
Midway through my research, a lead from the Rare Books Curator at the Bodleian Library came to light on a picture Bible, called the Hexastichon Hieron printed in Oxford in 1677 which used German engravings.
I went to investigate, and to my excitement the illustrations turned out to be near identical to many of the engravings in the Küslins’ Bible!
In fact, the engravings for the Oxford Bible came from Matthaeus Merian, who was the grandfather of the sisters! Comparing the Küslins’ Bible to Merian’s engravings from the Icones Biblicae at the British Museum, was enlightening.
Towards the end of my research, I started to think about how I wanted the books and labels to be displayed and show off the books to their best advantage.
A day with the professional photographer was a good way to see how carefully these valuable objects needed to be treated while taking accurate photos.
Wearing latex gloves became a constant feature!
Towards the end, getting the labels, captions and web-text finalised became the priorities. A meeting with Eva, the web-developer, threw up some inspirational ideas as to how best to represent the web page; I knew the page-turning feature would be an additional success!
The entire project was overseen by Dr. Alexandra Gerstein, who was a source of good advice and support, and special thanks to the team at the Ashmolean Prints Department, Angela Roche at the British Museum, Alan Coates at the Bodleian, Christopher Rowland, Ben Quash and Helen Hills who have all provided enormous encouragement and feedback, Christopher Mendez, John Hindmarch, Richard Valencia, and Joanna Selbourne and Kate Edmondson at The Courtauld Gallery.
The German Miniature Picture Bibles will be on display in Room 3 from 1 May – 22 July 2013.
Other objects in the Illuminating Objects series will include African and Oceanic wood carvings, Renaissance and later ivories, and German and Venetian glass.Categories: Displays, Illuminating Objects | Tags: Bible, conservation, paper conservation, room 3, theology | 1 comment
A Collections Management System (or CMS as those in the business might call it!) is a computer database specifically designed to help manage the collections of galleries and museums.
Museum Plus is also in use by many other galleries and museums in the UK and Europe, including The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, The Wallace Collection and the Museum of the Order of St. John, both in London.
Museum Plus has the ability to store all traditional catalogue information on our collection, including provenances, literary references for the piece, and a full history of everywhere it may have been exhibited.
As well as this, the CMS can store detailed information about storage, handling and exhibition requirements of each object, which may include how sensitive to it is to light and whether it has any specially designed apparatus to help move it.
All the photographs we have for anything in the collection can be attached to that piece’s record and so for the first time we can see all our x-rays and conservation shots alongside very high resolution photos of the object itself seen from many angles.
This system is really revolutionising the way The Courtauld Gallery can access and share information about its collection; very soon our Art & Architecture website will be generated from the Museum Plus database and will be sharing new information about the collection online.
One example of this is the in-depth display labels, written by the curators, which are displayed beside the individual pieces on the wall in our gallery, these will soon join the existing catalogue information on the Art & Architecture website.
For the first time we have individual digital records on our exhibitions, to which we can attach images of the installation, press reviews and of course what objects were on display.
Our CMS is already a rich resource that is used in house and by visiting guests but will continue to grow as we increase our cataloguing and documentation.Categories: Collection | Tags: catalogue, conservation, Museum of the Order of St John, Museum Plus, The Ashmolean Museum, The Wallace Collection | 2 comments
Dr Rachel Sloan, Assistant Curator of Works on Paper on how she got into curating, her favourite part of her job, and her advice to aspiring curators.
What was your path into curating?
I went to university in the States and did a joint degree in English and history of art. I had planned to go on to postgraduate work in English, but a part-time job at my university’s art gallery and a year abroad in London – a considerable portion of which was spent visiting museums here and on the continent – persuaded me that I would be much happier in a museum.
I came back to London to do my MA and PhD at The Courtauld, during which time I volunteered in the Paintings department at the V&A and served as a researcher for the National Inventory Research Project. After completing my PhD, I returned to the States for a few years, where I did a graduate internship in the Drawings department of the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, followed by a curatorial research fellowship at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. I’ve been at the Courtauld Gallery since January 2012.
How did you come to specialise in prints and drawings?
The subject of my PhD was the interaction of Symbolist artists in France and England in the late 19th century, and a number of the artists I worked on were prolific and talented draughtsmen and printmakers. Studying their work first hand in the intimate setting of a print room was thrilling. After I finished my studies, I found that more and more of my scholarship focused on prints and drawings, and when I had the opportunity to work with drawings at the Getty, it seemed like a natural step.
But my interest in drawings actually reaches much farther back. I remember visiting a small show of Italian Renaissance drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago when I was quite young – perhaps ten or eleven? – and finding that I preferred looking at the drawings to looking at finished paintings. There’s something ghostly and elusive about drawings, like a direct – if fleeting – glimpse into an artist’s imagination.
What does your job involve on a daily basis?
There isn’t really such a thing as a typical day for a curator! I spend quite a lot of time working with the collection, whether organising an exhibition or display (working with prints and drawings, which are light-sensitive and can only be displayed for relatively short periods of time, means that the next one is always on the horizon), researching a single work, or working with our print cataloguer.
One of my major responsibilities is managing the Print Study Room, so I might be overseeing one of our busy drop-in sessions (to which anyone is welcome to come on Wednesday afternoons during term time), assisting with a class, or teaching a class myself.
Sometimes I’m not even in the Gallery – I might be attending (or sometimes speaking at) a conference, visiting an exhibition or an art fair, or accompanying a work from the collection when it goes on loan to another museum.
What’s your favourite thing about being a curator?
Getting to work directly with incredible works of art and having regular opportunities to share them with a wide range of audiences, whether in an exhibition, a session in the print room or a lecture. The tremendous variety and hands-on nature of the work. The fact that no two days are the same.
And what is the hardest part?
The fact that no two days are the same!
What has been your career highlight so far?
Something that’s currently in progress – I’m working on a small show on English and German Romantic landscapes. I’ll keep you posted!
What is it like to work at The Courtauld Gallery?
Being able to work with such an excellent collection is a real privilege, and one of the most rewarding aspects of working in a university gallery is that we share the collection with such a wide audience – in a single week in the Print Room we might have as visitors a class from the Courtauld Institute, a renowned scholar from another institute, and members of the public who are thrilled to be able to spend time with a single print or drawing.
Being part of a relatively small staff (there were twelve of us when I arrived, which has grown in the last year to fifteen) means that there’s a great sense of camaraderie and cooperation – on a major project (like an exhibition), everyone pitches in.
What kind of qualities do you think a curator needs?
A passion for original works of art, a keen eye for detail, excellent communication skills (both verbal and written), the ability to work happily both in a team and independently… and tenacity! It takes a tremendous amount of time and hard work to become a curator, and of course once you start working, the work doesn’t stop. Not that I’m complaining – there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.
What is your favourite piece of art in The Courtauld collection?
That’s a difficult question – especially considering that there are about 7000 drawings and 22000 prints to choose from! The Turner watercolours are amazing (though if I had to choose just one, it would probably be On Lake Lucerne looking towards Fluelen).
As far as prints go – again, a tough choice, but I think I might choose Canaletto’s Views of Venice – there’s something tantalisingly eerie and unsettling in his prints that is much less present in his paintings.
I also have a sentimental favourite that’s neither a print nor a drawing: Gauguin’s Te Rerioa.
Two years before The Courtauld moved to Somerset House, Samuel Courtauld’s collection was sent on a tour of major American museums, and I remember being taken to see it when it stopped in Chicago. Not only did I find Te Rerioa enchanting on the wall, it was also the image on the cover of the catalogue, which my mother bought. I grew up with it staring up at me from my parents’ coffee table. Maybe my coming to The Courtauld was fate…
What would your advice be to any aspiring curators?
Spend as much time with works of art as you can – learn to consider them as objects, not just images. Not having a first degree in the history of art isn’t a barrier to becoming a curator (many curators have studied literature, languages, history or even science at undergraduate level), but postgraduate study is becoming increasingly important, if not essential. Polish your writing and speaking skills.
Internships are really important – get as much, and as varied, hands-on experience in museums as you can, whether it’s working as a research assistant, giving gallery talks, helping with admin on an exhibition – all of it will be valuable. (Undertaking an internship at a smaller institution will likely allow you to gain a more varied experience than you might at a larger one.) Grab any opportunity you can.
Lastly – don’t give up! Becoming a curator is by no means an easy or straightforward process, and the competition for jobs is intense, but if you’re truly passionate about it, persevere.
For another perspective on life as a museum curator read V&A Curator Glyn Davies’s diary of what his job involves.
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: Canaletto, drawings, prints, prints and drawings, turner | 3 comments
In a new series of informal performances, Clavichord player Federico Truffi will be performing live Medieval music against a backdrop of Medieval and Gothic art.
The Courtauld Gallery ’s collection of Italian 14th and early 15th century works, featuring tempera on panel paintings and golden backgrounds, provides the perfect setting for Truffi’s madrigals. In pairing the music with the collection, Truffi seeks to explore the forgotten qualities of a neglected space – the human soul.
Federico Truffi told us more about the project.
Why The Courtauld’s Medieval and Renaissance room?
This room displays a wonderful selection of paintings and other artwork which inspired me for this project. I thought it would be the ideal place in which to share the fruits of the research that has kept me busy for the last couple of years.
What kind of research have you been conducting?
I’ve been researching manuscripts containing the madrigals I now play, which were written by a Carmelite monk in Northern Italy around the end of the 14th century.
It’s important to consider a few issues when performing medieval music; the different way the music was written, the existence of different versions of the same composition and 14th century traditions of performance. These all need to be carefully researched so that the performance can contribute to our knowledge of that time and it’s artistic output.
What attracted you to working with The Courtauld Gallery?
There are many similarities between the restoration of a painting and the research and performance of a piece of music written many centuries ago. We cannot be afraid of traveling to unexplored countries, discovering diversity and flying back home with more questions than answers!
When I discover a gallery like The Courtauld working in this direction I feel relieved and happy to give my little contribution.
What does the pairing of the musical and visual achieve?
Medieval art, more so than being decorative, possesses symbolic values which reach the innermost spaces of our being. Something similar can happen with music when it is elevated from the position of silence-filler or relaxing background, to something more profound. The two complement each other.
What is unique about the project?
What is unique, even before mentioning the rare music performed on a rare instrument, is the way in which visitors will experience my music within the space.
A concert in The Courtauld’s Medieval and Renaissance room offers a priceless experience– an intimate journey through time and space.
How does the project explore ‘the concept of the soul’?
The most direct and evident link between these recitals and the human soul is represented by the music itself – in their vocal version, the madrigals that I will perform deal with topics such as luck and destiny, purity and beauty, deception and appearance.
On a deeper level, introspection descends from facing the artistic output of our ancestors in its refinement and partial obscurity, as well as from the intimate voice of the clavichord and the closer interaction between public and performer.
What can you tell us about the clavichord’s sound?
The intimate sound of the clavichord possesses a fragility that evokes the human voice. It takes us on an adventurous journey, its mysticism extracting us from the present and the materiality our everyday lives.
And what will you be playing exactly?
I will play some madrigals from late Trecento and early Quattrocento manuscripts which will remind you of Fra Angelico and the other artists belonging to religious orders whose paintings are exhibited in Room 1. This music is rarely performed in modern times, so this recital should provide a singular experience. I hope to see you there.
Mondays: 15 April, 6 and 20 May, 3 and 17 June, 1 July
Saturdays: 6 April, 4 May, 1 June
We’d love to know what you think.
Leave a comment below or tweet using @CourtauldGallCategories: Talks | Tags: carmelite monk, clavichord, clavichord recital, federico truffi, fra angelico, medieval | Leave a comment