New report on changing research methods in art history

ITHAKA has recently published a new report called Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Art Historians which continues a series of examinations of the discipline began in 2000. It is based on interviews with over 70 prominent art historians, faculty members, curators and related professionals.

Report cover page

The report makes for interesting reading, showing both continuity and change in methods including critical analysis of objects, archival research, technical art history, interviews with artists, interdisciplinary and collaborative methods as well as the growth and impact of digital art history. Trends noted include the growth of certain specializations, particularly contemporary and non-western art. The report also acknowledges its limitations, such as the lack of examination of how current copyright law can restricts research and publication.

Among the headline findings are that digital technology has facilitated access to vast collections of resources previously unavailable but the lack of centralised systems to search for primary sources or for cultural heritage objects means that discovery is still complex. Most scholars also keep substantial personal collections of images and research files but the tools to manage these collections are insufficient. Lastly, there is great variety in the training and methodological grounding provided by different institutions and even different advisors. The careful development of research skills is essential for those entering the profession during a time of great competition for jobs.

The Book Library at the Courtauld Institute of Art is always looking to help support that research training and staff and students alike should feel free to contact us with any queries.

Free access to Palgrave Macmillan journals in March

Until the end of March, Palgrave Macmillan is offering free online access to all of its journals. Among the most interesting titles for Courtauld staff and students will be Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies, Feminist Review and Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society.

Postmedieval journal page


Recent acqusitions: Courtauld alumni and staff publications

While visiting the Courtauld Book Library, you may have noticed the three recent acquisitions displays to the side of the issue desk. The library staff see dozens of new acquisitions arrive every week, and these displays are a wonderful way to showcase a selection of these items before they are shelved with the rest of the collection.

In addition to the New Book and Current Exhibition Catalogues displays, there is a themed display, which changes every two weeks. Previous themes for this academic year have included fashion, photography, drawing, and women artists. Our current selection features titles by Courtauld alumni and staff.

The new book display

À l’avant garde! art et politique dans les années 1960 et 1970

features an essay by Dr. Jacopo Galimberti, who completed his PhD at the Courtauld in 2013 and is now a visiting lecturer.


Bergson and the art of immanence: painting, photography, film

edited by John Mullarkey and Charlotte de Mille, Visiting Lecturer at the Courtauld; with contributions by Professor Sarah Wilson and PhD candidate James Day.


Capital cities at war: Paris, London, Berlin, 1914-1919 (volumes 1 and 2)

by Jay Winter, Research Forum Visiting Professor and Charles J. Stille Professor of History at Yale University.


Medieval and later ivories in The Courtauld Gallery, complete catalogue

by Professor John Lowden, with an essay by Dr. Alexandra Gerstein, Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Courtauld Gallery.


Museums Matter: in praise of the encyclopedic museum

by Professor James Cuno, Director of The Courtauld Institute of Art from 2002 until 2004, and current president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust.


Painting in Cappadocia: a guide to the sites and Byzantine church decoration

by Dr. Cecily Hennessy , who gained a PhD in Byzantine art in 2001, and is currently a Senior Lecturer at Christie’s Education.


Pleading in the blood: the art and performances of Ron Athey

edited by Dr. Dominic Johnson, who completed his MA and PhD at the Courtauld (2003 and 2007), and is currently a Senior Lecturer in Drama at Queen Mary, University of London.


The Routledge Companion to music and visual culture

with contributions by Charlotte de Mille, Visiting Lecturer ; William L. Coleman, who completed his MA in 2008; Ayla Lepine, former Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow; and Dr. Sheila McTighe, Senior Lecturer.


21st-century portraits, National Portrait Gallery

by Andrew Graham-Dixon, who studied as a postgraduate at the Courtauld.


The versatile image: photography, digital technologies and the internet

edited by Dr. Alexandra Moschovi, who completed her PhD at the Courtauld in 2004 and is currently Lecturer in Photographic history and theory at the University of Sunderland; Carol McKay and Arabella Plouviez; with a contribution by Rachel Wells, who completed her MA and PhD (2004 and 2008) at the Courtauld, and is currently Lecturer in Art History/Theory at Newcastle University.


Visual cultures as seriousness

by Professor Irit Rogoff , who completed her PhD at the Courtauld in 1987, and is currently Professor of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London.


Wonderful things: Byzantium through its art

edited by Dr. Antony Eastmond, AG Leventis Reader in the History of Byzantine Art.


Caitlin Peterson and Bobbie Winter-Burke

Don’t judge a book by its catalogue record

As part of an inventory exercise in the Special Collections, we have unearthed some interesting and useful books, including a copy of Persepolis illustrata from 1739, with plates depicting the Palace of Isfahan. It has now been catalogued on the computer system and can be requested from Special Collections. The shelfmark is CABS A226.PER PER and its oversize.

Perhaps the book that illustrates the title of this post best is located on the catalogue as A description of ancient Rome, containing a short account of the principal buildings, places, &c. …, printed for John Knapton in 1761.  That description is located near the back of a bound volume containing a number of political tracts and pamphlets, including An account of the emancipation of the slaves of Unity Valley Pen, in Jamaica. This document explains how David  Barclay, from Walthamstow in Essex, came to the conclusion that it was ‘subversive of the rights of human nature’ to keep slaves. (p.3) Barclay, of the banking and brewing family, was a Quaker and an abolitionist, supporting William Wilberforce in his attempts to have the House of Commons outlaw the slave trade.

The slaves were ‘inherited’ by Barclay, when he and his brother John inherited grazing land in Jamaica, in St. Ann’s Parish, about 40 miles from Kingston. (p.7) They were taken to Philadelphia where the Barclays had acquaintances and “where was already formed a Society for the abolition of slavery, and for the benefit of free blacks, of which society he was already a member.” (p.6)  The table below gives an account of what happened to the freed slaves 4 years later.

Persepolis illustrata

I am sure that Knapton’s description of ancient Rome is interesting, but this volume is a reminder that there is more to life than art. The book’s shelfmark is CABS Z6920 KNA.

And with that I’d like to thank the Courtauld for the opportunity to work with this wonderful collection of books and archives for the past 5 years. I have learned so much from my colleagues, students, and the collections themselves. There is so much to explore and so many research projects contained in these rich and beautiful collections.

Erica Foden-Lenahan

Special Collections Librarian, 2008-2013

Update on Emblemata post in April 2011

Back in 2011, I wrote a post about one of my favourite books in the Special Collections – a copy of Alciato’s emblem book from 1608. I talked about the binding having some interesting features, including the initials RW incorporated into the blind roll decoration. John Chalmers, a retired librarian who was once based in Oxford, now in Chicago, contacted me about the posting. And here is what he said:

“The attribution to the Oxford binder Robert Way (active in Oxford 1602-1626) by Basil Oldham has been accepted and unchallenged, although there is evidence that Way’s tools were shared with other binders in Oxford.

A characteristic of Oxford binding in this period, in addition to the dark blind-tooled calf, is manuscript endleaves, which have been studied by the late Neil Kerr, and leather or alum-tawed sewing supports.”

What I had thought were parchment sewing supports, upon closer inspection and armed with greater knowledge acquired on my book conservation course than I had at the time of writing, I could now see that the supports were, in fact, alum-tawed skins.

I am thankful to Mr. Chalmers for both his information and encouragement. I have now amended the bibliographic record binding description.

Erica Foden-Lenahan

Special Collections Librarian

Featured Book: Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene

Choosing a ‘favourite thing’ from the Book Library is very difficult because we have such a wealth of items in our Special Collections and also on our main shelves.  Since I began working here I have come across tiny, fragile exhibition catalogues from 1900 onwards, letters written by Roosevelt, a completely square book in its own box, a scrapbook of fashion plate cuttings and much more.  It’s hard to whittle down these items to just one, but eventually I chose our two volumes of the 1895 edition of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, edited by Thomas J. Wise, with wonderful illustrations by Walter Crane.

Title page

The Title Page

The Faerie Queene (1590-1596) sometimes known as Faery Queen, is the best known work of the poet Edmund Spenser (c. 1552/3 – 1599.) It is an epically long, allegorical poem that, although never actually finished, was intended to span twelve volumes. It contains many allusions to members of the Elizabethan court, and can be seen as a celebration of Elizabeth I’s might and Elizabethan culture. It encompasses knights, damsels, magicians, (even Merlin!) monsters and mythical beings. In the poem, Spenser uses a unique rhyme scheme, now known as a ‘Spenserian stanza,’ which was later adopted by Romantic figureheads such as Byron and Keats.

But what makes these particular volumes stand out for me is the illustrations by Walter Crane, especially as I have been an admirer of his work for some time.  Walter Crane (1845-1915) was an Arts and Crafts engraver and illustrator. He is best known for his whimsical, finely-executed illustrations of children’s books, including Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1873) Baby’s Own Aesop (1887) Arthurian Legends and Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888).

An illustrated page

One of the illustrated pages

Crane’s illustrations for Faerie Queene are stylized, painstakingly detailed and vivid in colour and execution, even after all these years. The cover illustration for both volumes features a graceful woman in a stylized garden, standing next to a lion against a bold red background.  Each blade of grass and each trailing leaf of the foliage behind her can clearly be seen, and the style bears strong echoes of William Morris’s work. This may not be a coincidence, as Crane was involved in the Arts and Crafts movement and was also friends with Morris. (Morris even turned one of Crane’s designs into a tapestry.) His illustrations also appear to be influenced by the style of medieval and illuminated manuscripts, with pensive, chivalrous figures and intertwined flowers decorating their margins.

Our volumes are from the library of the fashion designer Stella Mary Newton, and this fashion angle can arguably be seen in Crane’s cover depiction of the intricate folds of the woman’s gown, corresponding with the thick drapery of the lion’s mane, and the fish-scale or amour-like embellishments on her sleeves. Crane himself was also interested in fashion, and designed dresses, costumes and even sandals. You can really see the imaginative quality to Crane’s work, especially in the whimsical expressions and gestures of his figures and their stylized androgyny. The frontispiece for Part VIII even depicts a rather forlorn-looking unicorn!

George Allen Publisher's bookplate

The bookplate of George Allen Publisher

The rarity of these volumes is suggested in its limited run of just 1000 copies, and in the use of unbleached, handmade and rather delicate paper. I think it is amazing that this work has remained in such good condition, and I hope that it will be continue to be used and appreciated by Courtauldians for many years to come.

Bibliographic Info

Spenser’s Faerie Queene edited by Thomas J. Wise ; illustrations by Walter Crane. Part VII and Part XIV. Published by George Allen, 1895-97.

Classmark: CABS Z7483 SPE OVERSIZE. (Reference Only.)

Related items from our collections

  • The Allegory of The Faerie Queene by M. Pauline Parker, 1960. (Z7483.SPE PAR: criticism and interpretation)
  • Walter Crane: the arts and crafts, painting, and politics, 1875-1890 by Morna O’Neill, 2010. (D497 CRA SPE.)
  • Edmund Spenser’s ‘The Faerie Queene’ -an exhibition on the occasion of the four-hundredth anniversary of its publication (Z5020 PRI UNI: exhibition catalogue)
  • Walter Crane by Isobel Spencer, 1975.

Related Websites

Spenser Online: Cambridge University’s Edmund Spenser Webpage:

Spenser’s The Faerie Queene on Project Guttenberg:

Edmund Spencer biography at The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: (Athens login details needed)

The Walter Crane Archive Project at the University of Manchester:

Walter Crane Biography and Image Gallery:

Walter Crane biography at Grove Art Online: (Athens login details needed)