Category Archives: Research

Barrie Cooke (1931-2014). Casting and Gathering: a Painter and Two Poets

The leading Irish expressionist painter Barrie Cooke (1931-2014) features in many European and American permanent collections. His Irish Times obituary describes him as ‘an artists’ artist’, but he was a poets’ artist too. His two closest friends were Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney and Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, and he collaborated with both men over decades, illustrating but also inspiring some of their finest verse. Cooke, Hughes and Heaney shared a passion for the wild waters and boglands of Ireland and the creatures they drew from them. Cooke and Hughes fished together on rough trips with Hughes’s son Nicholas to the lakes and rivers of Ireland’s west and Midlands; their example inspired Heaney to revisit his own watery childhood spent beside the rivers Moyola and Bann and beside Lough Neagh. From Hughes’s Crow (1970) to ‘The Great Irish Pike’ (1982) and ‘Saint’s Island’ (1986), and from Heaney’s great Bog Poems (1975) via his translation of a medieval Irish epic, Sweeney Astray, in 1984, and on to late collaborations on the pollution of the Moyola and lithographs to mark Heaney’s seventieth birthday, Cooke’s readings of his friends’ work, in letters and in 150 recently discovered but still barely known watercolours, charcoal drawings and monotypes now, sustained all three men. A generous grant from the Centre will enable me to travel to Ireland to complete the research for a book on this great triangular friendship, Casting and Gathering: a Painter and Two Poets, and to plan a series of exhibitions in Cambridge and in Ireland.

New light on Henry VIII’s Great Bible

The Great Bible, printed during Henry VIII’s reign, is often seen as the quintessential artefact of the English Reformation. Instigated by Thomas Cromwell, it was printed in Paris and London, and disseminated to parish churches across the realm. Two lavish presentation copies were printed on vellum for Cromwell and Henry. Currently at St John’s College, Cambridge, and the National Library of Wales (NLW), their woodcuts and title pages were hand-coloured by highly skilled painters and/or illuminators, whose identity is however unknown. Despite their importance for studies of art, religion and culture, these copies have received little in-depth scholarly analysis and have never been subjected to any technical or scientific examination.

Financial support through a CVC research grant will allow transporting the NLW copy of the Bible to the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Analytical Laboratory. Following the extremely fruitful examination of its sibling copy, the scientific analysis of this book will shed light on Tudor art, religion and politics. The book’s presence in Cambridge will be accompanied by a specialist workshop, which will bring together leading art historians, conservators, book historians, and early modernists, for a joint, cross-disciplinary analysis of this important artefact. The project will result in one academic publication, public lectures, as well as an application for a major research project on these two Great Bibles and the context in which they were created.

*Image of Henry VIII by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.

The Early Modern Social Theory of Visual Signs (Discussing Magnificence)

Antonio Urquízar-Herrera (UNED, Madrid)

Why did Early Modern European noble families maintain objects within the estate for generations and even centuries? Did these objects receive similar interpretations in the 15th-Century and in the 19th-, 20th– and 21st-Centuries? How did Early Modern authors support the interpretation of images and objects as sources of genealogical memory and “visual signs of nobility”?

The deployment of new research questions and the use of new sources can produce a better understanding of the Early Modern social reading of images and objects in the court environment. This approach could challenge the recurrent use of the concept of magnificence as a historiographical cliché.

This research project aims at retrieving the humanist discussion of the limits of magnificence through considering the reception of the classical narrative of spolia, through understanding the place of cross-cultural objects and images in noble palaces, as well as through considering the value of visual signs in the context of the Early Modern discourses of lineage, social mobility, and cultural legitimacy.

Projection: Alvar Aalto and the Moving Image

Dr Maximilian Sternberg and Gates Cambridge Scholar Sofia Singler have received seed funding from the Cambridge Centre for Visual Culture for a project provisionally entitled ‘Projection: Alvar Aalto and the Moving Image’. The project will launch with a research event in Lent Term, featuring distinguished documentary filmmaker Virpi Suutari, whose film on Aalto premieres in 2020, and director of the Alvar Aalto Museum, Tommi Lindh. A panel of presentations by Suutari, Lindh, Sternberg and Singler will be hosted in Pembroke College on 12 March 2020.

The lectures will serve to explore new perspectives on Alvar Aalto at the intersection of scholarly, artistic and curatorial practices. Widely recognised as the greatest Nordic modern architect of the twentieth century, Aalto holds a privileged place in the historiography of modernism. However, Aalto’s relationship to the moving image – a growing field of study in architectural history – has not yet been subject to extensive research.

The lectures will be preceded by a research meeting which will serve to scope out key themes, objectives and methods around which a future collaboration can develop. The project seeks to interrogate the interpretative possibilities of fiction and documentary film, as well as 3D/AR, for the architectural history and historiography of Aalto’s oeuvre and modernism more broadly, with a particular emphasis on the role of the urban context and everyday life.

The project seeks not only to address the medium of the moving image in relation to architecture and architectural history, but also to expand its conceptual and methodological possibilities. The collaboration with a leading film practitioner will lead to the production of films and 3D/AR simulations as research outputs that complement traditional written scholarship. Working with a museum director and curators, in turn, will open up opportunities to mediate the findings of the research, through an exhibition and publications, to a wider audience beyond academia.

Through close examination of architectural case studies in Finland and internationally, the project seeks to shed light on modern architecture as a process, both in its construction, from exploratory sketches to execution on site, and its subsequent experience and interpretations by multiple actors and stakeholders over time.

Image Credit: Unknown photographer, n.d. Behind the scenes: Alvar Aalto filming for TV. Copyright: Alvar Aalto Museum

Being an Islander: Art and Identity of the large Mediterranean Islands

Being an Islander: Art and Identity of the large Mediterranean Islands, is a three-year research and exhibition project (coming to the Fitzwilliam Museum in September 2021); aiming to elucidate what defines island identity in the Mediterranean.  As a project it explores how insularity affects and shapes cultural identity, art production and material culture, using the examples of Cyprus, Crete and Sardinia diachronically.  It is run by the Fitzwilliam Museum, with the collaboration of the McDonald Institute and the Centre for Visual Culture, Cambridge, as well as numerous international research collaborators. As a project, it sits on the intersection of Art and Archaeology; includes art interventions by young contemporary artists; confronts several current debates in Material Culture studies and Mediterranean Archaeology alike (e.g. the issue of regionalism in ancient Art); and finally explores the notion of islands as places that encourage creativity.[1]

  The project is generously supported by the A.G. Leventis Foundation, the Cyprus High Commission and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)



Press release:

[1] «Rêver des îles, avec angoisse ou joie peu importe, c’est rêver qu’on se sépare, qu’on est déjà séparé, loin des continents, qu’on est seul et perdu – ou bien, c’est rêver qu’on repart à zéro, qu’on recrée, qu’on recommence», Gilles Deleuze, in ‘Causes et raisons des iles desertes’.

‘Sur une ile on se rend compte qu’on peut se passer de plein de choses.  C’est dans ce type de contexte qu’on peut chercher l’incomfort créatif’ (Laurent Tixador).

Group Work: Contemporary Art and Feminism

“Group Work: Contemporary Art and Feminism” is a research project that explores the legacies and histories of group work in art since the 1970s, with a focus on feminist practices. Questions under consideration include: what would a (feminist) art history look like if it refused to tell a history of individual artists? And how did the collectivity inherent in much feminist organising in the 1970s and 1980s feed into artistic practice? This project thinks through the legacies of consciousness-raising in art, as well as other political group work that intersect with feminist politics, including the peace movement, anti-racist and women of colour activism, and lesbian, gay and transgender activism. The emphasis will be on feminist-influenced art practices from the 1970s onwards, exploring UK feminist communities and their international connections.

This research network will hold a series of events to consider the implications of approaching the art world from the point of view of the relationships, collaborations and networks that support artistic production, display and reception.

There have been two seminars held at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London to launch the network, in January and May 2019. The next seminar will take place at the University of Cambridge in Autumn 2019. 

The group is led by Dr Catherine Grant (Goldsmiths, University of London), Dr Amy Tobin (University of Cambridge/ Kettle’s Yard) and Dr Rachel Warriner (Courtauld Institute of Art).

Here is a link to our website:

The Object Talks Back. Bildwissenschaft and the Challenge of the Material Turn

This project examines the relationship between Bildwissenschaft and Anglophone “material culture” studies. It is supported by the Cambridge-LMU Strategic Partnership.

Munich and Cambridge complement each other because Munich has a long tradition and great present expertise in the field of Bildwissenschaft and its intellectual ancestors, in particular Aby Warburg. Due to linguistic and other barriers, Bildwissenschaft, though very influential in Europe, has never received much attention in the UK, whereas the material turn has many of its protagonists in Cambridge. The project starts an intellectual dialogue between these two approaches to visual and material culture.  To achieve this, we will organize a joint seminar, invite senior partners for short-term visiting professorships, and enable PhDs and Postdocs to spend time in the participating institutions with their excellent libraries.

Principal Investigators:

  • Prof. Caroline van Eck (Cambridge)
  • Prof. Ruth Bieldfeldt (LMU)


  • Dr. Alexander Marr (Cambridge)
  • Dr. Carrie Vout (Classics)

Immersive Renaissance

The Immersive Renaissance project is led from the University of Exeter, in collaboration with Donal Cooper (University of Cambridge) and Nick Terpstra (University of Toronto), as well as the National Gallery (London) and the Fitzwiliam Museum (Cambridge). The two year project begins later this year and will involve a variety of activity in Digital Art History focused on Renaissance Florence. 

Our ambition with Immersive Renaissance is to deliver a step change in how art and architectural history as a discipline can engage with the changing contexts of artworks and urban environments through the use of spatial digital technologies. The central aim of this proposal is to bring together into one collaborative research space the three broadly-defined spatial technologies of GPS, GIS and 3D/AR, to develop an interoperable system enabling researchers to move seamlessly between urban, local and building scale analysis and interpretation of art, architecture and urban design history. The city of Florence provides the project’s canvas, and our distinctive approach opens new interpretative possibilities for the multitude of Florentine artworks dispersed in museum and gallery collections worldwide. 

The project enables us to deepen the collaboration and extend the work of University of Toronto’s DECIMA GIS platform to include newly commissioned 3D models similar to the San Pier Maggiore model created at the University of Cambridge, while enabling this research to be deployed on location, as in the University of Exeter’s Hidden Florence app. Though presented as three distinct activities, the approach we will adopt is to develop an integrated and interoperable system enabling researchers to move seamlessly between urban, local and building scale analysis and interpretation. For desktop and smartphone interactions, we will adopt the unifying design and user interface aesthetic of Stefano Bonsignori’s sixteenth-century map of the city – a representation that provides both a high degree of geo-spatial accuracy of the street layout, and a street-view perspectival rendering of monumental buildings and streetscapes. The map enables point-based mapping (GIS, as in DECIMA) and movement-based navigation (using GPS, as in HiddenFlorence), while also providing the ideal entry point for detailed analysis, presented at highlighted “hot spots” hyperlinked to 3D models.

Hayley2020 – conference

Hayley2020, the first conference devoted to the life, works, and influence of William Hayley (1745-1820) runs at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Trinity Hall from 12-13/11/2020. Appropriately – as Hayley prided himself on his epitaph-writing – it’s timed to coincide with the bicentenary of his death on 12 November 1820.

Bringing together scholars of literary, art history and society, the conference will combine papers on Hayley and his milieu with innovative, object-focused sessions on manuscripts and artworks. Together, these will enable a new understanding of collaborative cultural production in the long eighteenth century. On the evening of  Thursday 12, Alex Kidson, the leading authority on the work of artist George Romney, author of George Romney: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2015) will deliver a public lecture on the artist and his relationship with Hayley.

William Hayley
Hayley made a profound contribution to the literature, visual arts and society of the long eighteenth century. A close friend of George Romney, John Flaxman and Joseph Wright of Derby, he would source commissions and suggest subjects for them to depict. Both the resulting artworks and their correspondence suggest they appreciated his interventions. William Blake, however, did not. Blake, moved down to Sussex in 1800 to work for Hayley, became increasingly frustrated with his approach, which, in today’s language could best be characterised as micro-managerial. Find out more about William Hayley.

Hayley 2020 will generate fresh perspectives on Hayley’s highly-influential network, which included Blake, Cowper and Romney, investigating these relationships, their impact on the individuals’ life and work, and how they influenced the content and course of British literary, social and art history. 

Running online on Thursday 12th and Friday 13th November, and convened to mark the bicentenary of his death, Hayley2020 is the first ever conference dedicated to writer, scholar and amateur doctor William Hayley (1745-1820).  

Hugely influential in his time, Hayley is now mostly remembered for persuading William Blake to move to the Sussex coast, commissioning illustrations and prints from him and driving him to distraction. But there is much more to the man who wrote (in verse) a runaway bestseller advising young women on how to attract and keep a husband, refused the poet laureateship for political reasons, and was the first person to publish an English translation of a long extract from Dante’s Inferno.

All are welcome. 

Book now at  There’s no charge, but donations to the Fitzwilliam Museum are welcome.

More information at

Pre-recorded material will be available on a password-protected site to view from Thursday 5 November.


  • Dr Alexander Marr (Art History, CVC)
  • Jane Munro (Fitzwilliam Museum)
  • Dr Suzanne Reynolds (Fitzwilliam Museum)
  • Dr Mark Crosby (University of Kansas)
  • Dr Lisa Gee (external consultant on Hayley Paper project)
  • Dr Naomi Billingsley (University of Manchester)

Drawing and the Early-Modern Graphic Imagination

Drawing and the Early-Modern Graphic Imagination is a collaboration between the Centre for Visual Culture and the University of Mainz. The project will run two colloquia, one in Cambridge (27th and 28th November 2019), the other in Germany (2020). The project is supported by the DAAD-Cambridge Research Hub for German Studies, in collaboration with the University of Mainz.


  • Dr Alexander Marr (Cambridge)
  • Prof. Elisabeth Oy-Marra (Mainz)

The first colloquium explores the notion of an early modern “graphic imagination” and how this manifested in drawing practices. The event builds on recent work on the phenomenology of drawing: how semi-finished or non-presentational drawings attest to the workings of the ingenium (i.e. wit, Verstand, inventive capacity) in tandem with an artisanal “active hand”. Rather than taking a connoisseurial view of sketches as collectible objects or a conventional art historical approach to drawings simply as preliminary compositions, we will explore the ways in which “invention” was worked out materially and in bodily acts. How did artists and critics connect this kind of embodied art-making to mental processes? What were the roles of swiftness, improvisation, and economy in the graphic imagination, and how were they conceptualised? How did “unfinished” drawings engage the beholder’s imagination?

Keynote speaker:

  • Prof. Nicola Suthor (Yale University)

A collaboration between the Centre for Visual Culture, University of Cambridge, and the University of Mainz.

Funded by the DAAD-Cambridge Hub for German Studies.

Organizers: Alexander Marr (Cambridge) & Elisabeth Oy-Marra (Mainz)

27th November

Lecture Hall, Trinity Hall College

16:00: Keynote Lecture

Nicola Suthor (Yale): Macchia versus Memoria? Outlining Inner Images

17:30: Drinks

28th November

Graham Storey Room, Trinity Hall

9:30-11:00: Session I

David Zagoury (Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome): Graphic Autohypnosis ca. 1530

Claudia Reufer (FU, Berlin): Imagination and Figural Dimensions in Drawings of the Cinquecento

Lucia Tantardini (Cambridge): From ingegno to disegno: Grotesque and Climactic Invention

11:00-11:30: Coffee

11:30-13:00: Session II

Claudia Steinhardt-Hirsch (Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen): Line – Scripture – Sign. On the Indexicality of Drawing in Early Baroque Florence

Iris Brahms (FU, Berlin): Iteration and Variation at the Margin. Paper as campo for Images and Experiments in the Case of Lodovico Cardi, called il Cigoli   

Morgan Ng (Cambridge): Renaissance Pavements as Imaginative Surfaces

13:00-14:00: Lunch (speakers only)

14:00-15:30: Session III

Elisabeth Oy-Marra (Mainz): The Economics of Imagination? The Use of Chalk and Charcoal in Drawings by Tintoretto and Lanfranco

Lisa Jordan (FU, Berlin): Time – Space – Motion. Guercino’s leggiadra penna

Heiko Damm (Mainz): Abbreviation, Cursoriness and Omission in Luca Giordano’s Drawings

15:30-16:00: Coffee

16:00-17:30: Session IV

Elvira Bojilova (KHI, Florence): The Expression of the Line

Alexander Marr (Cambridge): On Insinuation

Hanneke Grootenboer (Radboud, Nijmegen): The Manner in which ‘the Painter Thinks’: A Metaphysics of Drawing

19:30: Dinner (speakers only)