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Department of History of Art


Members of the Department collaborate extensively with international partners.


We have strong links with Germany, through both the Cambridge-LMU Partnership and the DAAD-Cambridge Hub for German Studies. 

Under the former initiative, Prof. Caroline van Eck convenes, with Prof. Ruth Bielfeldt (LMU, Munich) The Object Talks Back. Material Reception of Antiquity: Reconstruction, Restoration and Display. The project will run two research seminars on reconstruction and restoration as the vehicle for the material reception of art works from Antiquity and the early modern period. These will combine presentations of research in a seminar as well as in front of, and based on, works in Munich and Cambridge collections. Other participants include Dr Alexander Marr and Prof. Carrie Vout (Cambirdge) and Prof. Ulrich Pfisterer (ZKI, Munich). The project’s first workshop—Bildwissenschaft and the Challenge of the Material Turn”-- was held in Cambridge in 2020. A Return workshop will be hosted in Germany in the academic year 2020-21. 

The DAAD-Cambridge Hub supports two projects. The first, directed by Dr Alexander Marr in collaboration with Prof. Elisabeth Oy-Marra (Mainz), is Drawing and the Early Modern Graphic Imagination. The project explores how semi-finished or non-presentational drawings attest to the workings of the ingenium (i.e. wit, Verstand, inventive capacity) in tandem with an artisanal “active hand”.  The project’s first colloquium was held in Cambridge in 2019, the next will be at the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, in 2020. 

The second DAAD project, directed by Alexander Marr in collaboration with Prof. Elisabeth Oy-Marra (Mainz) and Prof. Karin Leonhard (Konstanz) is a three-year project on Ambiguity and Precision in Early Modern Art. The project will host a series of colloquia to investigate an apparent paradox: the fact that in early modern art, ambiguity is often an effect of precision. Some of the most ambiguous images--e.g. by Leonardo da Vinci, Peter Bruegel the Elder and Hans Holbein the Younger--are also some of the most technically precise. Precision is the foundation of their verisimilitude/mimesis/naturalism. Notably, the artists whose work seems most invested in ambiguity not only painted precisely but explored precision in other domains: e.g. Leonardo in the natural sciences; Holbein—in collaboration with Kratzer—in mathematics.


Under the auspices of the Cambridge-Paris Sciences Lettres Strategic Partnership, Prof. Caroline Van Eck directs the project Entangled Histories: Archaeology, Interiors and Design 1750-1900. Archaeology and design have been closely connected since the first excavations began in the 15th century in Rome and its surroundings, but the history of their entanglement and its implications are little studied, and hardly even recognized. The project intends to develop a first analysis of this uncharted field, starting from the little-studied coincidence of three major developments: the increasing recognition, in the arts, literature and politics, of a private sphere independent of the domain of public life; the discovery of Roman interiors at Pompei and Herculaneum; and the emergence of interior design as a new artistic discipline. Partners are Prof. Patricia Falguières (EHESS, co-applicant), Prof.  Isabelle Kalinowski (Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, Labo Transfer Culturel, co-applicant), Prof. Nathan Schlanger (Ecole des Chartes, Archaeology) and Odile Nouvel (emerita curator of the 19th-century department, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris), Prof. Carrie Vout (Classics, Cambridge) takes part as well. We have also secured the collaboration as associated partners of the V&A (Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner, Head of Archives), and of the Warburg Institute (Prof. Bill Sherman, Director) to facilitate archival research and provide expertise on the reappraisals of Antiquity and its material survivals that form the backdrop to the interactions we want to study here. 

With Prof. Isabelle Kalinowski (Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, Department of Germanic Studies) and Prof. Ulinka Rublack (Faculty of History, Cambridge) Prof. Caroline van Eck convene a graduate seminar on German Origins of Global Art History funded by the ENS, the Department of History of Art and the CVC. It started in 2019 with a close reading of Horst Bredekamp's Speech Act Theory and its context in German Bildwissenschaft, and will be continued in March 2021 with a close reading of Aby Warburg texts on the Pueblo Indians. The seminar will then branch out into a wider discussion of German art history c. 1900, and study closely the German foundations of global art history: Gottfried Semper, Gustav Klemm, Aby Warburg, Julius von Schlosser and many others. The seminar will also host two sessions of three days, one in Paris and one in Cambridge, consisting of seminars and museum visits. Students who wish to take part are asked to send a short letter of motivation and description of their interest in the topic of the seminar to Caroline van Eck.