I’ve been looking a lot at the Warburg Institute Library in relation to my project, and in particular at the Iconographic database. The Warburg Institute is part of the University of London, and “exists principally to further the study of the classical tradition, that is of those elements of European thought, literature, art and institutions which derive from the ancient world.”

The Warburg Institute
The Warburg Institute combines my interests in the histories of art and science and the cross-cultural interaction of ideas in myths and folklore. It defines this study as the classical tradition, which is the theme that “unifies the history of Western civilization. The bias is not towards ‘classical’ values in art and literature, [but] all the strands that link medieval and modern civilization with its origins in the ancient cultures of the Near East and the Mediterranean. It is this element of continuity that is stressed in the arrangement of the Library: the tenacity of symbols and images in European art and architecture, the persistence of motifs and forms in Western languages and literatures, the gradual transition, in Western thought, from magical beliefs to religion, science and philosophy, and the survival and transformation of ancient patterns in social customs and political institutions.”

In addition, the Warburg Institute has an extensive photographic collection, which they are in the process of digitising as part of their Iconographic database. “The photographic collection, organised by subject, documents the iconographical traditions of western art and facilitates research into these traditions as well as the identification of the subject of individual images.”

Fragments of Venus
It was this interest in the classical tradition that led me to consider the use of the Venus figure within art history. Botecelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ was also a keen favourite of Warburg, and he wrote about the painting as part of his interest in the Italian Renaissance.

I began by focusing on the sculpture of Venus by Antonio Canova which is housed in the sculpture galleries at Leeds Art Gallery. I decided to draw small sections of the sculpture to try to capture the essence of looking that the artist undertakes when drawing a subject. This allowed me to pay closer attention to the formal qualities of the sculpture, and to articulate the object in its original three dimensions, whilst rendering it in 2D. This process also brought to mind a phrase by Aby Warburg “Der liebe Gott steckt im Detail” (“God is in the Detail”), which he used to describe the way that he explored minute elements of art history to trace more universal patterns of thought.

After drawing sections of the sculpture, I decided to scan each one in order to reproduce them. This was intended to allow me the option to experiment with the form and production of the images, as well as giving me the ability to produce several versions of each. In the first instance, I created a 3D geometric shape with a different image from the sculpture printed on each of the faces. I had 12 drawings so I created a dodecahedron shape, where each image was digitally manipulated in the form of a pentagon. The sculptural element was intended to reference the exploration of geometry within art and natural forms, which has been a fascination of artists from Leonard da Vinci through to Helen Chadwick. It also had the effect of recreating the drawings in 3D, albeit in a fragmented form.

After producing these sculptural objects, I was interested to see how I could make other versions of the object so I produced the image series as an artist book. This time I used digital manipulation to make the images into a circular shape. This was intended to highlight the voyeurism of the viewer in looking at the different body parts of the sculpture. By separating the image into ‘pages’ I also wanted to highlight the time-based processes of both the viewing of a book and the viewing of a sculpture.

As a continuation of this project, I would be interested in studying the Venus figure in more detail to determine the elements that have been continued throughout art and history.

More info:



While I was in Southern India, I thought it would be useful to visit some galleries of modern art to see some alternative histories to the British artistic canon. As I was in Bangalore, I had the chance to visit the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru, which is housed in the Manikyavelu Mansion, the former property of the Mysore Royal family.

National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru
The 500 works which make up the permanent collection of the gallery were borrowed from the repository in New Delhi, and have been identified as signifying important changes in the history of Indian modernism. The galleries were laid out in a timeline of events, stretching from the 14th century to the present day, and, as expected, were strongly linked to the history of colonialism and independence in India.

The first rooms recalled previous artistic movements, specialising in the miniature paintings which developed from Mughal influences. These paintings were originally painted on palm leaves, but artists slowly converted to to using paper after it was introduced. The images generally depicted portraits, court scenes, flora and fauna, and were intended to communicate bhava (emotion). These images were often accompanied by text from religious manuscripts and myths. Artisans producing these images worked together in karkhanas (workshops),  specialising as illustrators or colourists.

India & Art during Independence: Creation of a National Identity
The colonisation of India by the British in the 17th and 18th Centuries brought a number of European artists to the country who practiced the Western technique of academic realism with its emphasis on linear perspective. These ‘traveller-artists’ worked in oils on canvas and recorded monuments, landscapes and people, which were filtered through an ‘orientalist’ lens, to show a romantic vision of the colonies to their patrons back in England.

The British had hoped to continue a workshop style of working, similar to the karkhanas, and set up art schools based on the School of Industrial Art at South Kensington. In 1854, they set up schools in Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras to train artists in the decorative arts for British industry. However, these new Indian artists were not interested in industrial design, and instead excelled in portraiture and life studies after the academic realism tradition. Artists from this period included Antonio Xavier Trindade, and Mahadev Vishvanath Dhurandhar.

Bengal School
The turn of the 20th Century saw a turn away from European tradition and colonialism. Artists began to consider reviving traditional techniques and materials, resulting in the development of the Bengal School. This ‘Indian’ painting style was produced through revisiting Mughal miniatures, Ajanta murals and Japanese art traditions of wash painting and subtle graduations of colour. The Bengal School was particularly associated with artist Abanindranath Tagore, and showed the connections between art and the Independence movement (swadeshi) in the early 1900s.

The Tagore family, (Rabindranath, Abanindranath, and Gaganendranath), were deeply active in forging new political, social, cultural identities through art, and were keen to resist colonial influences. Therefore, in 1919, when artists began to turn away from the Bengal School as an overly-romantic or sentimental movement, Rabindranath Tagore set up a new movement in Santiniketan in 1901 and the Kala Bhavan art school in 1919, which later became part of Visva-bharati University in 1921. This art school was the first to deliver an alternative method of art training, that of observing and living in nature instead of studio based practice, and facilitated the emergence of the modernist trait of the artist as an individual personality.

Regional Modernism
From the late 1940s, in the aftermath of independence, India began to develop a news set of canons linked to modernist styles such as Abstraction, Expressionism, and Minimalism. Regional artist groups also began to form including the Calcutta Group, the Bombay Progressives, and the Madras Group. The 1960s saw the first artist commune, ‘Cholamandal Artist Village’, open in Chennai, and in 1963 a group known as ‘Group 1890’, began to move away from establishing an ‘Indian’ style of art, and instead focused on the modernist task to “question, understand and formulate their own theory regarding art creation.”

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I’ve just arrived back from visiting the South of India where I was invited to attend a Hindu wedding. While I was there I had the opportunity to do some travelling and see some of the sights in the area. Apart from the amazing temples and backwaters, I was interested to learn about the history of Indian art from an Indian museum perspective. In the more Southern regions such as Thekkady and Madurai, I was treated to some of the local dance drama known as Kathakali, and when I arrived back in Bangalore I was also able to visit some of the municipal museums, including the Venkatappa Art Gallery and Museum.

Venkatappa Art Gallery and Museum 
The Venkatappa Art Gallery and Museum was named after Karnataka’s first modern artist, Sri K. Venkatappa. First established in 1865, (as the Government Museum) the museum collection was initially developed from objects donated by the public. The collection slowly grew as more objects were excavated or purchased. After independence, the government was keen to develop their museums programme, and in 1966, created the modern art section of the collection, which now houses retrospectives of works by Venkatappa and Hebbar.

Separated into two buildings, the collection consisted of ethnographic and archaeological exhibits, alongside modern artworks. I was interested to see how the museum was organised and I liked the fact that the archeological objects were interspersed with paintings and images from the regions where they were found. This type of display seemed to afford the artworks with a social history or documentary function, giving additional context to the objects as well as animating the artworks themselves.

Upstairs and overlooking the archeological exhibits I discovered a miniature painting collection and found it useful to see each of the different miniature styles next to each other demonstrating regional differences, as well as the development of the genre over the centuries.

History of miniature painting
Although the museum only showed a small selection from each school of miniature painting from the 14th century onwards, the history of Indian miniatures actually dates back to the 11th century in the Buddhist texts of the Pala School, followed by the Jain School between the 12th and 16th centuries. By the 15th century, miniatures had begun to be influenced by the Persian style of painting, which could be seen through the style of dress and subjects depicted in the work, as well as in the use of new colours such as ultramarine blue and gold. These innovations were linked to the establishment of the Mughal Empire in the region.

Created as a primarily secular tradition, the Mughal School evolved from a mix of Indian, Persian (Safavid), and European styles of painting. Although other schools of painting were present alongside the Mughal style, over time they began to overlay their traditions over Mughal prototypes to produce a rich synthesis of secular and religious subject matter, materials and techniques. The schools which developed from the 16th century onwards included the Deccani, Rajasthani, Pahari and Orissa schools.

Techniques and materials
To train to produce the works, students would often be instructed at a traditional atelier. There they would study recognised compositions in order to become proficient. They would use a technique known as pouncing, which involved creating perforated drawings of the original using transparent vellum. After producing this, they would rub charcoal powder through the perforations onto the painting surface, to create a dotted outline to work from.

Paintings were generally created using the tempera technique. Pigments derived from plants and animals were mixed with water and a binding medium to produce paints. Blacks and whites were produced from burnt ivory and burnt conch shell, respectively. Reds were obtained from insects, lead and ochres, whereas yellows were extracted from cow urine among other sources. Indigo and ultramarine completed the palette, which was then sufficient to mix the other colours required.

Originally, miniature paintings were produced on palm leaves, vellum or cloth. However, around the 14th century, paper slowly began to be introduced to India through its Islamic rulers. As in India, countries in the Arab world had also previously used vellum as a writing surface. However, in the eighth century, techniques in paper making were introduced by Chinese prisoners of war, and began to replace papyrus for common use.

By the 11th century paper had replaced vellum across Turkey, Egypt and Persia, as a more versatile and inexpensive medium for miniature painting and calligraphy. These findings reflect the history of paper discussed in week 48 and  49, with Spain continuing the spread of paper to the Americas through its connections with China and Arab trade routes.

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This week I was featured in the new publication Looking at Images: A Researcher’s Guide, which was edited by Jane Birkin, Rima Chahrour and Sunil Manghani. The publication was produced to address “the development of skills in image-related research [to prompt] dialogue within and between the subject areas [of] Art & Design and Media & Communication.” Looking at Images: A Researcher’s Guide was launched at the British Library on Tuesday 4th November 2014. An excerpt of my essay ‘The Genealogy of the Image’ is below:

The Genealogy of the Image
The genealogy of the image and its relationship to reality can be traced from Plato’s Republic, through to Walter Benjamin, and more recently, Hito Steyerl. Each of these accounts discusses the ‘poverty’ of the image in comparison to the original, but they also consider the production, reception and dissemination of the image, thus suggesting the possibility for the image to change or enhance reality through “[placing] the copy of the original in situations beyond the reach of the original itself”.

The relationship of the image to reality is also addressed in the field of image studies, which aims to investigate the complex interdisciplinary nature of the image as it relates to the study of different genres such as art, aesthetics, anthropology, cultural studies, history, philosophy and science. Sunil Manghani introduces the concept of image studies by using the metaphor of ‘an ecology of images’, as he believes that “the classificatory, comparative, and systems-based approach of ecology can be made pertinent to image studies, as it too seeks to locate how and why images operate in certain ‘environments’ or systems of meaning”…

My use of the term ‘genealogy of the image’, rather than Manghani’s ‘ecology of images’, is specifically intended to evoke the idea of ‘families’ of images. As W.J.T. MItchell describes in his 1984 essay, ‘What is an image?’: “If we begin by looking, not for some universal definition of the term, but at those places where images have differentiated themselves from one another on the basis of boundaries between institutional discourses, we come up with a family tree… [which] designates a type of imagery that is central to the discourse of some intellectual discipline.

Visual anthropology
A ‘genealogy of the image’ also suggests a network of cultural production which could function as a kind of visual anthropology. This is expressed in Aby Warburg’s study of cultural artefacts and traditions in the development of a theory of the psychological dimension of culture, whereby the human experience produced patterns of reasoning which would be evident within works of art.

My particular interest in image studies relates to the visual arts, and the ways in which image reproduction has developed as a medium for disseminating and analysing artworks, the contribution this can make to creating new dialogues between works of art, and the role of image memory in facilitating a deeper engagement with the art object…

Image reproduction
The history of image collecting can be explored through the creation of illustrated catalogues where, as early as the 17th Century, collectors sought to capture and distribute images of their treasures in more portable means. As such, artists were commissioned to produce printed reproductions of artworks for study, comparison and distribution.

In 1660, David Teniers the Younger produced the ‘Theatre Pictorium’, the first printed catalogue of a major paintings collection. The collection was owned by his patron the Hapsburg Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, who was cousin to King Philip IV of Spain. His first depiction of the collection however, was in the form of the painting ‘Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his Picture Gallery’, which detailed Leopold and his fellow collectors surrounded by a selection of his paintings. As a historical artefact, this painting not only reveals the extent of Leopold’s collection, but also documents elements of the Archduke’s social relationships.

Teniers continued to document the collection through the selection of 243 of the approximately 1300 works to depict in his ‘Theatre Pictorium’. He created miniature reproductions of the paintings in oil, which were then used as models by a team of engravers to ensure the accuracy of the printed copies. Despite the inaccessibility of the private collection, the catalogue made it possible for the images to be used for reference up until the 18th Century, “and had an enormous influence on the way that collections came to be organised, understood and published”.

Networks of influence
The impact of image memory in understanding how ideas proliferate across temporal and geographical boundaries was of particular interest to German born art historian Aby Warburg. He was influenced in part by the methods of his teacher Karl Lamprecht, who believed that “the visual arts provided the only clear manifestation, or objectification, of intellectual culture that could offer access to the mentality and collective psyche of the era in which the artforms were produced.”

This prompted Warburg to consider artworks as more than simply cultural products, but also as a monument, illustration or documentation of a historical period [and he] began to construct a vast library called the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg in Hamburg. It was here that he began to develop his work on the ‘Mnemosyne Atlas’, a series of exhibition screens onto which were pinned photographs that explored the relationships between visual images.

Producing this work at the turn at the 20th century, concurrent with the development of photography, afforded Warburg a great advantage in visualising these relationships, which he often reconfigured and photographed to explore new themes within the work. The use of images also allowed him to create multiple narratives as “every [image was]… not only connected forward and backward in a ‘unilinear’ development [but] it could only be understood by what it derived from and by what it contradicted.” This dialectical method was conceived as an ‘iconology of intervals’, where objects were not to be classified according to art historical narrative, but rather through considering “the contrasts, analogies, tensions, and anachronisms among them”…

These examples of image reproduction have shown how images in the visual arts operate to enhance the life of the object. From Enlightenment philosophies of classification and cataloguing of the image, through to photography and online image sharing, each process explores the complex networks surrounding the production, collection and dissemination of the image.