Manuscript detail

Under the Influence

The Research Centre for Illuminated Manuscripts (RCIMS) at the Courtauld, founded in 1997, organised its most ambitious event thus far on 3-5 July 2003. Guided by the dynamic organisational skills of Dr Alixe Bovey (British Library/RCIMS) seventeen commissioned speakers, nine younger scholars, and a capacity audience of one hundred and twenty enthusiasts from eight countries and fifty-eight institutions spent three intense days "Under the Influence".

The provocative and somewhat enigmatic title demanded that we consider the appropriateness (or not) of the concept of influence in the study of illuminated manuscripts, a concept roundly condemned by Michael Baxandall in 1985, but resuscitated and defended in a variety of contexts and circumstances by our proceedings. The papers were a winning mixture of ideas and information, and the discussion, while vigorous, was supportive as we wrestled with broad issues as well as minutiae. Generous receptions at the British Library, Sam Fogg, and the Courtauld Gallery, rounded off each day and ensured that informal exchange was maximal. The presence of Bennett and Kerr booksellers on the Saturday, with a selection of relevant second-hand publications, ensured an element of self-gratification through biblio-commercial therapy. A splendid dinner for the speakers, chairs, and benefactors, was a memorable valediction.
Sponsorship was gratefully received from the British Academy, British Library, Christie’s, Courtauld Research Committee, and Sam Fogg.

The conference was deemed an outstanding success, and a publication
(by Brepols) is in preparation. In addition, preliminary planning for a second event in 2005 with the theme "Illluminating Narrative" is already well under way. Book early to avoid disappointment!


drawing detail

Sculpture and the Pedestal
A symposium 'Sculpture and the Pedestal’ was held at the Courtauld Institute on 10 June 2003. It was conceived as a sequel to a similar symposium held at Reading University in January 2001, but the coverage was deliberately much wider in scope — from Roman Antiquity to 21st century London. Caroline Arscott chaired the symposium with great flair and enthusiasm for all the issues raised. Peter Stewart began with a fascinating study of Roman bases and inscriptions. Phillip Lindley (Leicester) discussed his collaboration with the sculptor Richard Deacon on pedestals for the exhibition of medieval sculpture at Tate Britain in 2000. Deacon, who also present, contributed questions and comments. The other papers dealt with the 16th century Venetian sculptor Alessandro Vittoria’s use of the socle to show off his signature (Victoria Avery, Cambridge); the use of tall plinths and spiky railings to protect controversial British Royal monuments from attacks during the 18th century (Charlotte Chastel-Rousseau, Paris I); the appropriation of sculpture and pedestals for political satire in Punch (Sarah Crellin, independent). David Getsy (formerly a research fellow at the Institute, now at Dartmouth) connected Giacommetti’s and Epstein’s rejection of the pedestal in c.1930 to contemporaneous attitudes towards women and to Primitivism. The day ended with a fly-on-the-wall account of the 'Fourth Plinth Project’ at Trafalgar Square by the PMSA’s Johanna Darke.

Participants were invited to see a small display of drawings on the theme of sculpture and its setting, including some by sculptors (Bernini, Flaxman...), architects (Chambers, Peruzzi...), and of sculpture by painters (Poussin, Kokoschka...). I am grateful for the assistance of Samuel Bibby and the support of the Courtauld Institute.