My current monograph project is provisionally entitled Material Mimesis: Local and Global Connections in the Arts of the Italian Renaissance (supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship). The book explores the arts of the Italian Renaissance through the lens of ‘material mimesis’, whereby an art engages in the cognitive imitation of another materially and technologically, bringing to light artisanal experimentation and knowledge exchange. It centres on Italian wood inlay (intarsia), tin-glazed earthenware, (maiolica), and ‘imitation’ lacquer (lacca). These productions connected mimetically with other arts, relying for their coming-into-being on Eurasian long-term cross-cultural connections. This research has taken me to China, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and Italy to investigate collections and engage with conservators, curators, lacquer and intarsia makers and potters in the exploration and partial physical re-making of a select group of objects. Through the lens of material imitation, the book foregrounds the chronologically deep, global interconnectedness of these Italian Renaissance artisanal practices, making a case for understanding them as carriers of a ‘global DNA’. Through this materiality-led method it fundamentally questions Euro-centric and exceptionalist narratives of Renaissance art.
My other main current research focus concerns concepts, histories and practices of making, with particular emphasis on embodied knowing and experiential pedagogies for higher education. As PI for the V&A Research Institute’s project Encounters on the shop floor: Embodiment and the Knowledge of the Maker (funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 2017-23), I have developed a programme of collaborative research engaging with making as a productive form of knowledge production. The project brought together an independent group of makers and colleagues from contexts including Imperial College London, UCL, Royal College of Music, Tate, the Art Worker’s Guild, the APDIG cross-parliamentary group, MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms Fab Lab and Fab Academy, Arts University Plymouth, IAAC Barcelona, Aalto University, the Resolve Collective and the V&A. The resulting edited volume – Hands-On Learning and Making: Interdisciplinary perspectives on embodied engagement – (co-edited with Dr Catherine Speight and forthcoming with UCL Press) is accompanied by a series of short films (by research film maker Dr Paul Craddock, with music by Pétur Jonasson). In the book and films, leading academics in the humanities, sciences and social sciences, makers, designers, educationalists and museum professionals make a compelling case for the centrality of making and the need to bring it into the foreground of education.
Funded Research Projects
Material Mimesis: Local and Global Connections in the Arts of the Italian Renaissance, supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship)
PI, Encounters on the shop floor: Embodiment and the Knowledge of the Maker, V&A Research Institute, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Co-I, Shaping Space: Architectural Models in Context, V&A and Building Centre, supported by AHRC Follow-on funding
Co-I, Healthy Homes, Healthy Bodies, Domestic Culture and the Prevention of Disease in Renaissance and Early Modern Italy, Royal Holloway, University of London, supported by Wellcome Trust Research Grant
PI, The Domestic Interior in Italy, c.1400-c.1600, Getty Collaborative Research Grant
Other collaborative research projects
PIMo / People in Motion: Entangled Histories of Displacement across the Mediterranean (1492-1923), COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology). Contributing scholar.
The Luxury Network. Luxury and the Manipulation of Desire: Historical Perspectives for Contemporary Debates, Leverhulme International Network. Advisory Board Member and Contributing scholar.
AHRC Global Arts, University of Warwick, Ashmolean Museum, V&A. Contributing scholar.
AHRC Centre for the Study of the Domestic Interior, Royal College of Art, Royal Holloway University of London and V&A, PI of associated exhibition research project and Contributing scholar.
Other major awards
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, V&A Research Institute, Deputy Director
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, V&A Research Institute Pilot Project, Co-Director
RECENT SELECTED INVITED LECTURES
February. Lansdowne Distinguished Lecture, Everyday Life in the Medieval Home Conference, University of Victoria
September. Keynote lecture, “Travelling Matters. Rereading, reshaping, reusing objects across the Mediterranean”, Haifa, HCMH. Conference organised by PIMo / People in Motion: Entangled Histories of Displacement across the Mediterranean (1492-1923)
May. Invited paper, “Renaissance Patterns”, 50th Renaissance Colloquium, University of Basel
March. Invited public lecture and workshop, “Affective Artefacts” project, History Department, Manchester University
January. Invited paper, “The Art of Copying in Early Modern Europe”, Medici Archive Project, Florence
November. Invited public lecture to coincide with exhibition “Global Luxury in Renaissance Venice”, Gardiner Museum, Toronto
September. Invited lecture, DFG-funded research group “Dimensions of Techne in the Arts”, University of Berlin Summer School
June. Invited paper, Scientiae. Early Modern Knowledge conference, University of Amsterdam
February. Invited paper, “Reconstruction: Methods and Practices in Research, Exhibitions, and Conservation”, Centre for Visual Culture Inaugural Conference, University of Cambridge, 24-25 February
July. Keynote, FAB15, MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms Fab Lab Annual Conference, Egypt
March. Invited paper, “Discoveries of artistic materials in the Renaissance: curiosity, expertise, representation and profit”, Renaissance Society of America Annual Conference, Toronto
October. Invited lecture, “The Conversion of Connoisseurship on Imperial Antiquities” Conference, National Palace Museum, Taipei
October. Invited lecture, Institute of Art History lecture series, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich
November. Invited seminar, Art History Department, University College London
May. Invited paper, “Utsuwa Utsushi” symposium, co-organised by University of Oxford and Chelsea College of Art
November. Invited seminar, research seminar programme, Art History Department, University of Bern
November. Invited paper, “What work for what object? Gestures, savoir-faire and body culture in museums of science and technology”, Artefacts XXII conference, Musée des arts et métiers, Paris
October. Invited paper, “Building Future Art Histories: Studying the History of Art in the 21st Century panel”, LMU China Academic Network - 3rd Scientific Forum, University of Munich
June. Keynote lecture, “Curiosity and Cognition: Embodied Things 1400-1900” conference, CRASSH, University of Cambridge
March. Invited paper, Material Agency Forum, University of Leiden
February. Invited paper, “Innovation in the Pre- Modern World: Knowledge, Design and Products symposium”, Global History and Culture Centre and Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, University of Warwick
RECENT RESEARCH EVENT ORGANISED
Across: Objects in trans-national, trans-chronological and trans-material context (panel organiser and speaker), Scientiae. Early Modern Knowledge conference, University of Amsterdam, June 2021
Making and Knowing IV: Unmaking and Remaking: Experimentation, Pedagogy and Knowledge Production (panel, co-organised with Pamela Smith, Columbia University), Renaissance Society of America Annual Conference, Philadelphia, April 2021
Encounters on the Shop Floor: Embodiment and the Knowledge of the Maker, International conference, V&A, 26-28 June 2019
Embodied Things, research seminar, CRASSH, University of Cambridge, 2016-17
Gems in Transit: Materials, Values and Knowledge in the Early Modern World, 1400-1800, Research Workshop, University of Amsterdam, University of Utrecht, University of Warwick, V&A, May 2016 and May 2015 (with Sven Dupré, MPIWG/University of Utrecht and Michael Bycroft, University of Warwick)