The Courtauld, together with the Trustees of the Caroline Villers Research Fellowship, have established a Research Fellowship in memory of Caroline Villers.  The purpose of the Fellowship is to promote research in the interdisciplinary field of Technical Art History: the application of technical, scientific and/or historical methods, together with close observation, to the study of the physical nature of the work of art in relation to issues of making, change, conservation and/or display.

The Fellowship is advertised annually, in the spring, and interviews take place in early July. Research proposals for the Fellowship are welcomed from researchers and practitioners from diverse disciplines relating to the study and conservation of works of art. The Fellowship is also open to applicants in permanent employment wishing to take leave of absence to work on a project. The maximum period of tenure is 9 months, but requests for shorter projects are also considered. The Fellow is based at the Courtauld Institute of Art although collaborations with other institutions are encouraged.

For a list of the Trustees click here

Caroline Villers

Caroline Villers was Director of the Department of Conservation and Technology at the Courtauld Institute of Art, 1999-2004.  As David Bomford notes, ‘What mattered most to Caroline was the exploration of the ways in which works of art were made, the processes of artistic creation. What fascinated her was the notion of artistic intention made tangible in the physical reality of the work of art. In her lectures, she conjured up the unique, essential combination of hand and eye, intellect and circumstance, resulting in a seminal work of art’.

For David Bomford’s remarks at the inauguration of the Fellowship, click here.

For appreciations of Caroline Villers click here.


'Examination of Mark Rothko's Untitled, 1969-70, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Pia Gottschaller
studied art history at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and took a diploma in the conservation of easel paintings at the Courtauld Institute in 1997. She then worked at the Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, and at The Menil Collection, Houston, where she participated in the technical study and conservation of the Rothko Chapel paintings. She received her PhD in 2003 from Technische Universität Munich for a thesis on the artistic process of Blinky Palermo. At the core of this research lay the examination of the artist’s multi-part paintings on aluminium from the 1970s, the unusually complex layer structure of which was reconstructed through visual examination, crossections, pigment/binder analysis, preparatory drawings and other documentary evidence. Subsequently, she worked as Associate Conservator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, followed by a Postdoc Research Fellowship at Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max-Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte in Rome, and the position of Assistant Fine Arts Director at the German Academy Villa Massimo, Rome. Other work experiences include freelance curatorial work for private collections and museums. Her research interests focus on issues of technical art history, in particular with regard to postwar and contemporary European and American artistic practices. Among her publications are monographs on Blinky Palermo and Lucio Fontana, as well as essays on Max Beckmann, Mark Rothko, Donald Judd, David Reed, Italian postwar artists and issues of contemporary art conservation.

As the Caroline Villers Research Fellow for 2012-13, Pia will examine the work of selected modern and contemporary painters that used, or refused to use, masking tape for creating straight borders. The conscious limiting of modern abstract painters to the use of colour, surface texture and mostly geometric forms meant that each of these compositional elements received unprecedented amounts of attention, by both the creator and observer. Artists active before WW II, Kasimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian among them, occasionally used rulers or cardboard to aid them in creating straight edges and lines. But with the introduction of masking tape in Europe and the US in the late 1930s, painters were suddenly able to achieve perfectly straight borders of forms. Some practitioners like Bridget Riley, however, preferred to continue to paint their lines free-hand, often with the argument that taped edges appear ‘mechanical’ or ‘anti-human.’ Barnett Newman on the other hand presented an unsurpassed array of effects created with masking tape, and although many young contemporary artists revere him as a master, some of them state that their professional ethic forbids them the recourse to such aids. The project will also attempt to establish when tape was possibly used in the creation of an easel painting for the very first time. A second avenue of research focuses on the differences in a viewer’s perception when confronted with these very subtle qualities of line, edge, or border. In the œuvre of Mark Rothko, for instance, the introduction of tape from around 1964 onwards coincided with his wish to create images of a less subjective handwriting. In other words, inconspicuous as these variations are, their impact on our reading of a work can be profound. The project therefore aims to avoid a purely formalist examination in favour of an iconographic one, informed by history as well as science. Building on Prof. Semir Zeki’s findings in the field of neuroesthetics, a number of experiments will thus be conducted to establish if different parts of our visual brain respond to borders painted with and without tape.


Previous Caroline Villers Research Fellows and descriptions of their projects