european painted cloths c14th - c21st: pageantry, ceremony, theatre and domestic interior


10.00 – 17.45, Friday 15 June (with registration from 09.30)
10.25 – 17.30, Saturday 16 June (with registration from 10.00)

Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Book now

This two day conference will explore the use of painted cloths in religious ceremony, pageantry, domestic interiors and scenic art. It will focus on their change of context and significance from the fourteenth to the twenty-first century exploring their different function, materials, and method of creation.

The potential for large sizes, portability, and versatility for religious objects including banners, hangings, altarpieces, and palls was the impetus for the emergence of fabrics as a painting support in Western art in the Middle Ages. The demand for elaborate altarpieces, church furnishings, and liturgical objects increased in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries due to changes to liturgical practice and an upsurge of religious fervour. The functionality of the works explains the survival of relatively few examples. Were paintings on fabric envisaged as ephemeral objects? There is evidence to the contrary. One of the most common forms of interior decoration for centuries, painted cloths have received less attention from art historians and historians than they deserve in part due to their poor survival. Often regarded as cheap substitutes for those who could not afford tapestries, their function has been oversimplified and their importance in providing imagery as well as literary subjects has been underrated.

Scenic backcloths were once commissioned for court functions, part of an elaborate display of royal power and magnificence, such as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The same methods and materials continued to be used for theatrical cloths. The nineteenth and twentieth century saw a resurgence in interest in the art form, as established artists, among them Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Picasso and later Piper, Hockney and Caulfield, took up commissions for the theatre and ballet.

The conference, to be held at The Courtauld Institute of Art, will be run in collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum. Presentations by four keynote speakers will reflect the aim of the conference to bring together and foster interdisciplinary research between art and interiors historians, paintings and textile conservators.

Peer reviewed papers presented at the conference will be published by Archetype Books

Keynote(s): Jo Kirby Atkinson (Scientific Department, National Gallery, London); Roland Krischel (Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Cologne, Germany); Nicholas Mander (Owlpen Manor, UK); Hilary Vernon Smith (Royal National Theatre, UK)

Speaker(s): Nicola Coldstream (independent researcher); Nicola Costaras (Victoria and Albert Museum); Sing d’Arcy (The University of New South Wales); Nikki Frater (Plymouth University); Katherine French (University of Michigan); Jim Harris (The Courtauld Institute of Art); Sylvia W. Houghteling (Yale University); Jorien Jas (Gelderland Trust); Sarah Kleiner (Department of Paintings Conservation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Frances Lennard (University of Glasgow); Rebecca Olson (Oregon State University); Jane Pritchard (Victoria and Albert Museum); Karen Thompson (University of Glasgow); Katja von Baum (Walraaf Richartz Museum); Christina Young (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

Organised by: Christina Young (The Courtauld Institute of Art) and Nicola Costaras (Victoria & Albert Museum)

Ticket/entry details: £65 (£25 students and concessions) / Free for Courtauld staff/students but space is limited so online booking is required.

BOOK ONLINE: Or send a cheque made payable to ‘Courtauld Institute of Art’ to: Research Forum Events Co-ordinator, Research Forum, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN, stating the event title ‘European Painted Cloths’ conference.
For further information, email

Download programme Download programme

Download abstracts Download abstracts

Back to Events Calendar