Volume 2, no. 2 (2009)


Abstracts and cover information


Jake and Dinos Chapman (b. 1966 and 1962), Like a Dog Returns to its Vomit (no. 59), 2005, reworked and improved etching from Francisco de Goya’s Los Caprichos, © 2005 Jake and Dinos Chapman (Courtesy White Cube).

Much of the Chapman Brothers’ most celebrated work has expressed and reflected their fascination with its art historical contexts and precedents. Goya’s graphic oeuvre has held particular significance throughout their career, reworked sculpturally in Disasters of War (1991) and Great Deeds Against the Dead (1994), and in the adjusted etchings from Disasters of War and Los Caprichos, which formed a significant part of Like a Dog Returns to its Vomit (2005).

Unnatural Ornament: Beverley Minster, Historical Consciousness and the Early English Style

Matthew Woodworth

While most English Gothic buildings are composed of stylistically disparate parts, the church of Beverley Minster, Yorkshire is a rare example of architectural unity.  The design of its choir and transepts (completed c. 1250) was closely copied when the nave was completed in the fourteenth century, resulting in a building with a remarkably uniform appearance.  This article examines Beverley’s ‘historicism’ and attempts to understand how its architectural continuity was understood by the church’s original clergy and administration.  Three previously unpublished accounts from the Beverley Chapter Act book offer commentary on the Minster’s architecture, assessing its different parts in terms of their relative ‘natural’ qualities.  The unique vocabulary of these descriptions is traced back to the oratorical treatises of Cicero, whose ideals of rhetorical excellence became the canons’ means of praising their church and articulating its essential features.  For a period of half a century, ‘naturalism’ became the primary analogue for characterising the Minster’s old and new work, and church authorities appear to have made aesthetic evaluations based upon perceptions of intrinsic artlessness and authenticity.

The Locked-Up Garden: The Nature of Medieval Castile

Tom Nickson

With particular attention to an extremely unusual fourteenth-century sculpted tympanum at Toledo cathedral in Spain, this article discusses the prominent role of natural imagery in the visual culture of medieval Iberia. In part this prominence derives from an encounter with Islamic decorative traditions, and shares with those traditions associations with Paradise. Yet ‘architecture as nature’ is also presented as a traditional topos of writings about architecture, one that undermines attempts at fixed iconographical interpretation of an idea that is anyway, in its very essence, anti-rational.

‘Antwerpian Rubens’ best skill made him soare’: George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham and the Elevation of painting at the Stuart Court
Christiane Hille

Assessing Peter Paul Rubens’ The Duke of Buckingham Conducted to the Temple of Virtue, a ceiling painting commissioned by George Villiers, the prime minister and favourite of James I for his London Residence York House in 1625, this article argues for a new reading of the composition as an English version of the neo-platonic motif of the rape of Ganymede.

Dealing with Art: Pier Francesco Mola’s Caricature of Three Ecclesiastics
Edward Payne

Taking as its focus a little-known caricature drawing by Pier Francesco Mola (1612–1666) from the Courtauld Gallery, this essay aims to shed light on the social and artistic networks in seventeenth-century Italy that are central to an understanding of the image. Mola’s Caricature of Three Ecclesiastics parodies a scene in which a friar, greeted by a cardinal, has apparently come to beg a pontiff for money. Significantly, the pontiff is related to a recurring figure that Mola depicted in a number of caricatures and who has been identified as the artist’s dealer and friend, Niccolò Simonelli (fl.1636–1671). This essay demonstrates that Mola’s inclusion of a portrait of his dealer in a scene of clerics dealing with money creates a comic juxtaposition, allowing the artist to satirise simultaneously the ambiguous alliances and slippery hierarchies both in religious life and in the Roman art world.        

Komar and Melamid’s Collective Disappointment
Nadim Samman

This article considers the oeuvre of the former-Soviet duo Komar & Melamid, highlighting their sustained interest in exploring the possibilities and limits of a ‘people’s art’. Taking issue with commentators who would characterise their work and vapid or opportunist, it seeks to demonstrate that the pair’s profane and iconoclastic practice expresses disappointment in the modern(ist) pursuit of political emancipation. In so doing it characterises their use of humour as an expression of idealist pessimism.

On and Off the Page: Andrea Fraser in Conversation
Judith Batalion

Andrea Fraser is an artist and essayist whose work has been identified with performance, institutional critique, and context art.  She has created major installations and performances for museums and galleries throughout the world and her writing has been published in Art in America, Afterimage, October, Texte zur Kunst, Social Text, Critical Quarterly, Documents, Artforum and Grey Room. In 2003, the Kunstverein in Hamburg produced a twenty-year retrospective of her work Andrea Fraser: Works 1985–2003.

In the autumn of 2008, Fraser was invited to the Courtauld Research Forum as part of the Frank Davis Lecture Series, Writing Art History: Off the Page, which considered how art historians, artists, and writers create art historical narratives in realms aside from the traditional page of text. In this conversation, Judith Batalion discusses Fraser’s work both on and off the page, addressing her writing methodologies and strategies, and the different possibilities each medium offers for intervening in art history.

Hayden White in Conversation with Carol Mavor
Research Forum

Hayden White, who visited the Courtauld in February 2009 as part of the Research Forum’s continuing Writing Art History seminar, has been described as ‘the closest thing we historians have to a Karl Marx’, for the insurrectionary impact his writings have had on the field of historical studies over the last forty years. His powerful critique of history as a kind of writing and his profound investigation into the conventions of narrative, drawing on and contributing to philosophy, linguistics, semiotics, and literary theory, are regarded as the chief inspiration for postmodern history.

After giving a lecture, Novelesque Histories, which explored the implications for the practice of art history of the new mode of historical writing represented by the modernist novel, Hayden White took part in a public discussion with Carol Mavor, Professor of Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester, who wrote her PhD under White’s supervision.  Their conversation ranged across the trajectory of White’s theoretical writings and the past and future of historical studies with particular reference to the importance for his work of the writing of Roland Barthes as well as speculating on the value of recent debates in the philosophy of history for art history and visual studies.