The seminar, organised by Susan Bracken, Andrea Galdy and Adriana Turpin, was established in 2004 and was one of the first in its field. It holds monthly meetings on Monday evenings with a range of international speakers on a wide variety of subjects. Our sessions cover diverse topics and explore different approaches to the subject of collecting and display. We invite papers that cover areas of collecting from antiquity to the present day and a broad geographical range; we are interested in the history of private collections and museums, the great house, the history of natural sciences, court culture and diplomacy, the art market and gender studies.

In accordance with the policy of the Institute Historical Research where this seminar normally takes place, we are running the autumn series of talks online. We invite all those interested in attending to register as shown below:

Monday 12th October, 2020, 6 p.m. Pamela Bianchi will speak on: Dressing Up Spaces: Exhibition Design and Display Strategies at The Gonzaga Court

The Galerieta verso la Mostra (the gallery of marbles or months), the Galeria Grande (the main gallery built around 1592 to exhibit modern paintings), the Coridore che guarda verso la Santa Barbara (a corridor connecting two sections of the building, serving as storage for paintings and sculptures), the Logion Serato (a gallery of mirrors, central point of the exhibition structure), the Passetto davanti al Camarino della Grotta (the passage in front of the Grotto) and the Stanza contigua alla Libreria (the room adjoining to the library).

In 1626, these rooms appeared in the inventory of the ducal palace of the Gonzaga family in Mantua, drawn up by Ferdinando Gonzaga. These spaces (named in relation to the typology of objects contained and the topology of the other rooms) not only served to exhibit the family collections of antiquities and paintings but also translated the (ante litteram) “museographic” programme conceived by Ferdinando. At the time, the palace was perceived as the architectural portrait of the family, thus, a succession of spaces was especially “dressed up” to show off its intellectual and social power. Within such a scenographic apparatus, visits were not limited to a single room but developed in a specific dynamic extending temporality and spatiality. Here, visitors were allowed to experience the palace through “the eyes that saw, the head that turned and the legs that walked” (Le Corbusier, 1950).

This contribution studies the relationship between the architecture of the palace and the display of the collection, to generate a broader debate around the role played by ancient collections in the design of the first exhibition strategies and related spaces, born before the idea of a fully public museum. By detailing the stages of a sort of architectural walk, this study thus probes the aesthetic and spatial experience of the visitor inside the ducal palace of Mantua, in which the relationship between the display of collections, furniture design and architectural decoration, created a veritable “exhibiting machine”.

Finally, this paper will offer an opportunity to hypothesize a new form of a historiographical reading of the spaces of collections in the 16th and 17th centuries, with regard to contemporary museographic vocabulary, spatial design and exhibiting methods.

Pamela Bianchi is an art historian (Milan, 2011), and was awarded a PhD in Aesthetics, Sciences and Technologies of Arts at Paris 8 University (2015). Since 2013, she has been an affiliated to the AI-AC research team there. She recently organized the international conference “DEA Allestimento/Exhibition Design” at the Paris 8 University and the School of Architecture ENSA Paris-Malaquais. Her research interests include the history of exhibition space, exhibition theories, architectural design, museum studies and new curating approaches. She has published widely, including: Espaces de l’œuvre, espaces de l’exposition. De nouvelles formes d’expérience dans l’art contemporain (Paris: Connaissances et Savoirs, 2016) and she is currently preparing for publication The Spactio Picto. The Imagery of the Exhibition Space in the Early Modern Period (1450-1750).


Monday, 9th November, 2020 6 p.m. Harriet O’Neill will speak on: Lending and Borrowing: The British Fine Arts Palace at the 1911 International Arts Exhibition, Rome

In 1911, in response to an invitation from the Italian government, the wealthier amongst the European nations opened pavilions in the Valle Giulia, Rome displaying ‘…representative collections of pictures, sculpture, drawings and engravings’ to celebrate 50 years of a unified Italy with Rome as its capital. This paper will explore collecting and display in terms of the loans negotiated from a diverse group of lenders for the British contribution to the International Fine Arts Exhibition and their curation.

Under the aegis of the Exhibitions Branch of the Board of Trade, 1232 paintings, sculptures, watercolours, prints and drawings were borrowed, catalogued and transported from the United Kingdom to Rome. Highlights included works by Leighton, Hogarth, Reynolds, Zoffany, Rossetti, Gainsborough and Constable. What was displayed was determined by a Committee, the President of which was the British Ambassador to Italy, Sir James Rennell Rodd and the Chairman was Thomas Ashby, Director of the British School at Rome. The works exhibited came from countrywide stakeholders of all social and institutional levels, including Lord O’Hagan of County Tyrone, Staffordshire General Infirmary, the Corporation of Leeds, the Fishmongers Company and the Corporation of Leicester to name but a few. To date there has been no scholarship on what motivated owners to lend nor why the Committee asked them to, lacunae this paper seeks to correct.

By focusing on the creation of a hitherto little researched temporary collection and its display, understanding of transient collecting will be heightened and what it reveals about national collecting practices at the beginning of the twentieth century. It should be noted that many of these works of art are now in national and international collections and that this discussion will provide a new understanding of their past lives.


Dr Harriet O’Neill undertook her BA in History at the University of Oxford and holds MAs in History of Art and Art Museum and Gallery Studies. Her PhD, ‘Reframing the Italian Renaissance at the National Gallery’ was a collaboration between UCL and the National Gallery, London. She has held curatorial positions at the National Gallery and Royal Holloway, University of London and published articles on frames and framing, scenography and nineteenth-century ornament. Harriet is currently Assistant Director for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the British School at Rome and an Honorary Research Associate of Royal Holloway.


Monday, 14th December, 2020 at 6.30 p.m. (PLEASE NOTE CHANGE OF TIME) Dr Joanna Smalcerz will speak on: The Anatomy of Wrongdoing: Socio-Psychological Dynamics of Unlawful Art Collecting

In 1776, Charles Townley (1737-1805), an English collector of antiquities, Grand Tourist and future trustee of the British Museum, received a letter from his agent in Italy, Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798), in which the famous dealer wrote explicitly about the smuggling that would be necessary for the transport of a statue of Venus out of the Papal States. A year earlier, equally openly, the two discussed the bribes necessary to smuggle out another antique statue. Similarly, more than a century later, the Berlin curator Wilhelm Bode (1845-1929) and a collector from Bode’s circle, Adolf von Beckerath (1834-1915), would collude with the Florentine art dealer, Stefano Bardini (1836-1922) for the illicit export of artworks from the Kingdom of Italy. Within these cliques, unlawful collecting was perceived as necessary in the race against international collectors to secure the most valuable available antiquities and Italian Renaissance works of art. In the nineteenth century the phenomenon was widespread – the same normalisation of law-breaking permeated other collectors’ circles, for instance that of Bernard (1865-1959) and Mary Berenson (1864-1945), and Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924).

Drawing both on the nineteenth-century examples from her recent monograph, Smuggling the Renaissance: The Illicit Export of Artworks Out of Italy, 1861-1909 (February 2020) and on more recent cases of illegal art collecting, the paper analyses the social and psychological dynamics of unlawful collecting of art and antiquities. The paper investigates the illicit schemes of museum curators from the perspective of studies on white-collar crime and deploys concepts stemming from criminology, such as techniques of neutralisation, to explain the social acceptance of wrongdoing within the networks of private collectors engaged in art smuggling. The speaker will reveal the opaque, yet universal phenomena, governing art collecting.

Joanna Smalcerz is an Associate Researcher at the University of Bern. Her research and publications focus on the nineteenth-century art market and collecting, and investigate the relations between societies and their cultural heritage. Her recent book, Smuggling the Renaissance: The Illicit Export of Artworks Out of Italy, 1861-1909 explores the phenomenon of art spoliation in Italy following Unification, when the international demand for Italian Renaissance art was at an all-time high but effective art protection legislation had not yet been passed. Joanna holds MAs from the University of Warsaw and the Free University Berlin, and a PhD from the University of Bern. She worked on the Project for the Study of Collecting and Provenance at the Getty Research Institute and lectured at the University of Bern. Her awards include fellowships from the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History in Rome and the Villa I Tatti – The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence.

Detail for registration will be sent out in due course.


 Attendance is free but all places must be booked through the IHR website. We have provided the link to each seminar, so please click on BOOK, fill out the form and the link will be sent to you by email for each event.

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