Insights 2013: Art History and Discovery

7 August 2013

Professor Mark Ledbury
"We should be teaching and communicating and enabling the act of discovery," says Professor Mark Ledbury

This Thursday evening, Professor Mark Ledbury, Director of the Power Institute and Power Professor of Art History and Visual Culture, will explore what is at stake when examining both true and false works of art in his Insights 2013 lecture.

In this inaugural lecture titled Art History and Discovery, Professor Ledbury will look to exciting discoveries and rediscoveries, such as Leonardo's Salvator Mundi, long regarded as a copy but verified only recently as a genuine work, as well as the discovery of the caves in Lascaux in 1940, and the Hurculaneum in the eighteenth century.

He says that people are fascinated by such discoveries "because of our profound sense of excitement at 'what lies beneath', our thirst for our roots, and for a sense of the extraordinary and mysterious past."

He will also speak of some of the false discoveries of recent times including the cache of Caravaggio paintings in a castle in Italy "which of course," Professor Ledbury says, "turned out to be nothing of the sort", and the controversial Isleworth Mona Lisa, which was thought to be an earlier version of the famous painting.

He will argue that academic art history has over a long period of time distrusted discovery and focused on interpretation.

"These days we're very keen on interpretation because it connects art with what we call 'context' which is our historical vision of the past", says Professor Ledbury, "we love to answer the question 'what does it mean' and we're delighted to speculate on this. However, sometimes we don't ask the simpler question 'what is it?'"

This relative disappearance of basic observation and identification tasks from curricula has led to a well-studied divide between Art History as taught at Universities and galleries and museums- yet there are many thousands of objects world-wide in collections, including right here in Sydney requiring 'rediscovery'. As recent social science work has argued, if the work of discovery is not first done effectively, then the subsequent theorisation is often weak or suspect.

Professor Ledbury sees that part of the solution can be to encourage students to go back to the object as problem and "sniff about" these archives and collections.

"We should be teaching and communicating and enabling the act of discovery, recapturing it as part of the basic curriculum of what it is to be an art historian."

Event details

What: Art History and Discovery, part of the Insights 2013 lecture series by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

When: 6pm, Thursday 8 August. Refreshments served in the Nicholson Museum from 5.30pm

Where: General Lecture Theatre 1, The Quadrangle, Camperdown Campus

Cost: $10

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Contact: Kate Mayor

Phone: 02 9351 2208, 0434 561 056

Email: 3b352022615414292b3f0b050f2d02542b5e07220f162f1f