Department of Art History

Women and the Culture of Connoisseurship: Research Forum

Women and the Culture of Connoisseurship: Research Forum – Dr Meaghan Clarke and Dr Francesco Ventrella

Funder: This Research Forum is funded by the Leverhulme Trust towards a round table and a public lecture which will take place at the University of Sussex on 1-2 July 2015.

There are three aims informing the instalment of a Research Forum on women and connoisseurship during the long nineteenth century: firstly, we want to create an occasion for sharing the scholarship already produced on women and connoisseurship in the past ten years or so. Secondly, we want to consider connoisseurship not only as a practice of attribution, but as a broader cultural discourse on appreciation and analysis of tangible artefacts. Thus, in the nineteenth century connoisseurship appears to be an ideal context for women art writers, also because it was practiced outside the mostly male environments of university. Finally, the focus on women will give us an opportunity to investigate other sites beyond academia in which art history was developed as a disciplinary discourse.

During the nineteenth century, a number of women connoisseurs were actively involved in shaping museum catalogues and collecting initiatives. Indeed, women’s involvement with the culture of connoisseurship was never marginal. In fact, they experimented with art historical writing in a variety of formats and genres such as travel writings, gallery catalogues and guides, exhibition reviews, etc.  In this respect, this forum proposes to ask how we might consider and assess the role of such writings in the art history and connoisseurship of this period. Connoisseurship was both an experimental and research practice relying widely on the collaboration of collectors, dealers, translators, editors, archivists and assistants many of whom were women. We also want to ask how we can bring this ‘ancillary’ work back into the social history of connoisseurship: if we acknowledge the relative invisibility of women connoisseurs ‘working behind the scenes’, we perhaps need to turn this perspective upside down, and ask why the history of art history could not account for the contribution of women to connoisseurship.

In order to answer these preliminary questions – and produce new ones – we are inviting scholars from around the globe to take part in a round table at the University of Sussex on 1-2 July 2015.

Forum Participants and Topics:

Hilary Fraser (Birkbeck, University of London) – keynote
Meaghan Clarke (University of Sussex) – Christiana Herringham
Carly Collier (Royal Collections) -- Maria Collcott and Queen Victoria
Ilaria della Monica (I Tatti, University of Harvard) – Mary Berenson
Flaminia Gennari (Syracuse University) – Belle da Costa Green
Machtelt Israëls (Amsterdam University) – Mary Berenson
Alexandra Loske (Brighton Royal Pavilion and Museums) – Mary Philadelphia Merrifield
Caroline Palmer (Ashmolean Museum) – Anna Jameson and Elizabeth Eastlake
Dietrich Seybold (Basel) – Louise M. Richter
Francesco Ventrella (University of Sussex) – Constance Jocelyn Ffoulkes and Vernon Lee