Newsletter Archive: Spring 2003
The Courtaulds Reach and Influence
before I arrived at the Courtauld as Director in January, I was made
aware of the Institutes reach and influence in the world. I was in
Dunhuang, a remote outpost in the northwest of China, on the ancient silk
road across central Asia, visiting a series of early Buddhist cave temples
the walls of which are decorated with nearly the sum total of surviving
early Buddhist mural painting. There, a mile or so outside the dusty little
village of Dunhuang itself, I was met by Fan Jinshi, the director of the
Dunhuang Academy, a scientific entity charged with studying and preserving
the so-called Magao Caves.
Dr. Fan, a small, determined woman in her seventies, greeted me warmly because I had been introduced to her as the new director of the Courtauld, the worlds leader in the training of wall painting conservators, many of whom, it turns out, have been working at Dunhuang. She took me to Cave 85, a 9th-century Tang dynasty grotto to show me the work being undertaken with the help of the Courtauld and the Getty Conservation Institute, the latter providing equipment, expertise, and funding, and the former providing professional training and experience. The cave had been considerably damaged over the years, in great part because of damp in the walls due to its location near a small, but persistent Daquan River. The work of the Chinese conservators was deeply impressive. And Dr. Fan was generous in her praise of the Courtauld and all that it has done to advance the work of her team. When I left Dunhuang two days later, she accompanied me to the airport and instructed me to send more Courtauld-trained conservators to her Academy. I smiled warmly and said: "Of course, its in our mission to do so."
Two months later I found myself in my new office at Somerset House and I am thrilled to be here. It is a most exciting time in the history of the Courtauld. We are half-way through our first year as an independent college of the University of London. Students are completing their second term and preparing for examinations and theses, teaching staff are teaching and organizing lecture series and conferences as they prepare to conduct research during the upcoming inter-term break, and I am startled by the amount of activity about the place. Since I arrived we have enjoyed a series of lectures on contemporary performance art, organized by Sarah Wilson, Reader in modern art, sponsored by the Friends of the Courtauld, and delivered, many of them, by Courtauld-trained scholars, critics, and museum professionals. At the same time, under the leadership of Professor Patricia Rubin, together with the National Gallery, we hosted a two-day conference on Botticelli and his workshop, a fascinating set of papers examining the practice of Renaissance painting workshops and the implications of workshop practices for our better understanding of Botticellis achievement as a painter, and the organization of his career.
Later in the summer term, Professor John Lowden will lead a conference on illuminated manuscripts under the auspices of the Research Centre for Illuminated Manuscripts, housed at Courtauld. Throughout the terms the various sections have been hosting continuous seminars. One such seminar, hosted by the Classical/Byzantine/Medieval section, was given by Michael Kauffmann, former Professor and Director of the Courtauld, and currently Honorary Fellow of the Institute. At the seminar were Peter Lasko and Eric Fernie, both former Professors and Directors of the Courtauld. Thus, in one place at one time, in addition to being treated to an elegant disquisition on an early Christian illuminated manuscript, I was introduced to my three predecessors, each of whom led the Institute with distinction during his tenure as Director. Needless to say, I was very pleased and honoured to have been in their company.
In itself the Institute is dynamic and ambitious. But in its alliances with other institutions in and beyond London, it is a truly extraordinary. In addition to the Botticelli conference organized with the National Gallery, members of teaching staff are engaged with colleagues and faculties throughout the United Kingdom in collaborative research projects, exhibitions, and conferences. We are also developing relations with the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg through the Hermitage Rooms here at Somerset House and with the assistance of a generous grant from the Edmund J. Safra Foundation. The grant will allow us to send students and teaching staff to St. Petersburg and bring to the Courtauld curators from the Hermitage Museum. We are also negotiating with the Hermitage Development Trust to assume responsibility for the Hermitage Rooms, as a way of collaborating with the Hermitage for exhibitions in support of and as complements to the Courtaulds teaching, research, and gallery programs.
At the same time, we are developing relations with the different parts of the J. Paul Getty Trust, especially the Museum, Research Institute, and Conservation Institute, as part of the agreement between our two institutions that was forged in the process of our achieving independent status as a college. At the end of term, Tom Crow, Director of the Getty Research Institute and a renowned specialist in late eighteenth-century French and post-War avant-garde American painting, presented a lecture at the Courtauld on the painter Mark Rothko. On that occasion we gathered Courtauld and Getty staff together to begin more specific discussions about future collaborations.
No doubt the biggest planning project for the spring is the development of the "research centre." With the generous support of the Safra Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation we are committed to establishing a research centre at the Institute that will enrich the research culture of the Institute itself, engage colleagues in and around London and beyond who are working in universities, museums, conservation studios, and a variety of unaffiliated situations, and advance new knowledge in a variety of research areas already explored at the Institute. We hope to announce the formation of the research centre later in the autumn.
These are only a few of the things occurring at the Courtauld as I take up my duties as Director. I am thrilled to be here and I very much look forward to the work that lies ahead.
JAMES CUNO — Director