The Multiple Lives of the Work of Art

22 November 2012, 14:00 - 18:00

Alison Richard Building, ground floor, SG1

Humanitas Visiting Professor in the History of Art 2012-13

The Humanitas Chair in the History of Art has been made possible by the generous support of J E Safra.

Professor Philippe de Montebello

(Philippe de Montebello (Director Emeritus, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fiske Kimball Professor, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University) will give a series of three public lectures on The Multiple Lives of the Work of Art  and participate in a concluding symposium. 

The lectures and symposium are free to attend but registration is required for the symposium. Please click on the link at the right hand side of the page to see the provisional symposium programme and to register online.

The lectures in this series


About Philippe de Montebello

Mr. de Montebello was born in Paris and received his early education in France. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and received a master’s degree in art history from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.  With the exception of four and a half years as director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, he has spent his entire career at the Metropolitan, first as curator in the Department of European Paintings and later as the Museum’s Chief Curator.


In 2008, Philippe de Montebello retired after 31 years as the longest-serving director in the Metropolitan Museum’s 140-year-long history.  Under his leadership the Metropolitan Museum nearly doubled in size, vastly increasing its exhibition space.  The Metropolitan also acquired significant collections and individual masterpieces, mounted acclaimed international loan exhibitions, developed wide-reaching educational programs, and reinstalled much of its permanent collections in new and refurbished galleries. In 2008 the curators of the Metropolitan Museum paid homage to Mr de Montebello’s tenure by mounting an unprecedented tribute exhibition of some 300 works of art that entered the collections under his leadership, The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions

Following his retirement, Mr de Montebello became the first scholar in residence at the Prado Museum in Madrid, and he launched a new academic career as the first Fiske Kimball Professor in the History and Culture of Museums at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University; he is also a special advisor for NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus. Mr. de Montebello is the television co-host with Paula Zahn of the WNET/PBS weekly culture series NYCArts. He also serves as Special Advisor to the Leon Levy Foundation.

Mr. de Montebello was elected in 2008 to the Board of Trustees of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and in 2012 he was elected Honorary Trustee of the Prado Museum in Madrid.

About the Professorships

Humanitas is a series of Visiting Professorships at Oxford and Cambridge intended to bring leading practitioners and scholars to both universities to address major themes in the arts, social sciences and humanities. Created by Lord Weidenfeld, the Programme is managed and funded by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue with the support of a series of generous benefactors, and co-ordinated in Cambridge by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH). Humanitas Visiting Professors are held by distinguished academics and leading practitioners who have contributed to interdisciplinary research and innovation in a broad range of contemporary disciplines in the arts, social sciences and humanities. Covering areas of urgent or enduring interest in today's society as well as the performing arts, Humanitas Visiting Professors will present their pioneering work through a series of lectures or performances open to University audiences and the wider public.




Thursday 22 November





Dr Astrid Swenson (Brunel University)
Context in International Context
The paper will look at how ideas about the 'right' context for art and architecture evolved in relation to international relations since the French Revolution. The Revolutionary Wars and their unprecedented destruction and art looting had a formative effect on debates about context (not least in forcing the internationally community to find a common solution towards either accepting the change of context or creating the mechanisms for restitution), but the debates continued long after the Congress of Vienna affecting the definition of art and heritage till the present.
Professor  Elizabeth Prettejohn (University of York)

The Transhistory of Art?
After a period in which the academic study of the history of art has concentrated overwhelmingly on contemporary contexts, there are signs of new thought on the longer histories of artworks, including a novel attention to the changes they undergo as material objects. These concerns -- in part revivals of interests held by the great art historians of previous generations, in part new ways of thinking -- are in my view welcome, but they raise questions both urgent and highly likely to be contentious about how art history is to be practised as an academic discipline. In this talk I will outline the issues that seem to me most challenging, and illustrate them with an example from my own work on the modern reception of ancient sculpture.

Chair: Professor Jean Michel Massing (University of Cambridge)


Tea Break


Professor Iain Fenlon (University of Cambridge)
Mobile Madonna: The History of a Venetian Icon

The Madonna Nicopeia is one of a large number of religious images and sculptures brought to Venice from the Middle East during the Middle Ages, much of it booty captured during the Fourth Crusade. It was believed that this icon, which consists of a central image of the Virgin framed by sixteen small enamels, had brought good fortune to those who had carried it in battle in Asia Minor, and the Venetians venerated it in the hope that it would bring similar blessings upon the Republic. Throughout  the centuries, it was the Nicopeia that was publicly carried in procession to ask for deliverance from the plague, and it was her image that graced the title-pages of editions of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary recited ‘in time of war’. This paper charts the undulating process of renewal and re-invention that accompanied the evolution of the cult surrounding the icon, and its consequences for musical composition.

Professor Bronwen Wilson (Sainsbury Centre for Art, University of East Anglia)
Art (History) Matters
Responding to the premise that our historical distance from artworks renders our engagement with them variable and contingent, this talk considers dynamic relations between making and viewing in paintings by Giovanni Battista Moroni, Annibale Carracci, and Caravaggio. The works considered here solicit viewers’ involvement with them through the crafted materiality of their surfaces, and through the blurring of boundaries between genres. Activating responses by individuals to them, and fostering communication and debate about matters of concern, these works attest to how the past impinges upon the present.

Chair: Professor Deborah Howard (University of Cambridge)


Reception at CRASSH