Issue 19 : Spring 2005
11 — 12 February
How were paintings made, and what practical and material considerations governed their original appearance? These questions lie behind much recent study, especially in the interdisciplinary field sometimes termed 'Technical Art History. The National Gallery and the Courtauld, have been leaders in this approach. In 2004 Caroline Villers, Director of the Department of Conservation and Technology, together with Jo Kirby of the National Gallerys Scientific Department, judged that the time was ripe for a conference about European trade in painters materials.
The plan was to bring together historians of economics and trade, art historians and conservators who had studied a range of relevant archival sources, and scientists who had identified and located the constituent materials of surviving works. The scope was pan-European, with particular emphasis on Italy, Germany, Flanders, England, Norway, and the Baltic. The range of speakers and specialisations produced an event of high intellectual quality, originality and coherence. Papers revealed the remarkable ingenuity of merchants and artists as materials were traded over large distances or were produced through new methods. The physical composition of paintings sometimes spoke more revealingly of international exchange than surviving written records.
The conference co-hosted by the Courtauld Institute and the National Gallery, excited international attention and was heavily over-subscribed. Speakers and participants came from a dozen countries and represented over sixty different institutions. Thanks are due to the National Gallery and Courtauld staff who ensured that everything ran smoothly, and particularly to the co-organisers, Jo Kirby and Susie Nash.
After summing up the achievements of the conference and discussing areas of future enquiry, Catherine Reynolds concluded with a tribute to the late Caroline Villers. Recognition that this seminal event was due to her vision and enthusiasm was keenly felt by everyone present. It was sad that this was a monument to Caroline rather than simply a milestone on her path of scholarly exploration, but as a tribute it would be hard to think of a more appropriate one: an example that many colleagues, students, friends, and admirers will seek to continue. The next step in this process will be the publication of the conference papers, which, like the event itself, will be dedicated to Carolines memory.