Leonardo 500: Studying, Visualising and Displaying Drawings and Manuscripts

A screen shows a drawing of a flying machine by Leonardo Da Vinci. In front of it is a three dimensional model of the same drawing. In the background a human hand is shown for scale.
Leonardo da Vinci, Codex Forster II, 91r (virtual model)

Juliana Barone 

5 November 2020, 18:00— 19.15, Online

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Leonardo da Vinci is one of the world’s best-known pre-twentieth-century artists. Much has been written about him and scholarly and imaginative works line the shelves of bookshops, and of institutional and private libraries. His portable paintings have sold in the multi-millions; some have been stolen and retrieved, others lost or mistakenly attributed, others still have not changed hands since the seventeenth century. However, Leonardo’s written legacy and the incredible variety of drawings that are found in his notebooks remain largely unknown. The breath of his investigations, the richness of his drawing techniques and, above all, the singularity of his work methods raise complex issues of interpretation and display. Traditional forms of study and visual engagement fail to do justice to the extraordinary fertility, spontaneity and rapidity of his mind and hand. This seminar paper aims to discuss some of the ways in which digital technology is now being used to address the challenges of his written and drawn legacy. Particular attention will be paid to a number of selected examples from exhibitions marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death that I have recently curated in London and Florence, and which have involved the collaboration of institutions such as the British Library, the Peltz Gallery, the Vasari Centre for Art and Technology, Ravensbourne College, and the Museo Galileo. 

Juliana Barone was awarded her Doctorate at Trinity College (Oxford University), had a Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) at St John’s College (Oxford University) and is Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of History of Art at Birkbeck College (University of London). She has published extensively on Leonardo da Vinci, her main books including: Leonardo: the Codex Arundel (2008); I disegni di Leonardo da Vinci e della sua cerchia. Collezioni in Gran Bretagna (with M. Kemp, 2010); Leonardo in Seventeenth-Century France: Paradoxical Legacies (2013) and Leonardo in Britain: Collections and Historical Reception (with S. Avery-Quash, 2019). Juliana has also curated exhibitions in London, Milan and Florence. Most recently, she was Associate Curator of the exhibition ‘Leonardo da Vinci: a mind in motion’ at the British Library in London (2019); and co-curator of the London exhibition ‘Leonardo da Vinci and Perpetual Motion: Visualising Impossible Machines’ at the Peltz Gallery (2019), as well as of the Florence exhibition ‘Leonardo da Vinci and Perpetual Motion’ at the Museo Galileo (2019).

Trophies of empire: exotic props in two paintings by John Everett Millais

A headdress from Guyana made from reeds and yellow, red and black feathers that form a ring.
Headdress, Guyana, 1830s, reed, feathers, cotton; British Museum Am1836,0901.27; © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Ian Dudley

18 November 2020, 18:00— 19.15, Online

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This talk focuses on unexamined links between the artists John Everett Millais (1829–96) and Edward Angelo Goodall (1819–1908). It describes how a range of Indigenous artworks collected by Goodall while working as the illustrator of a colonial boundary survey of British Guiana during the 1840s became the basis for two Millais paintings: Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru (1846) and The Boyhood of Raleigh (1870). Close object identifications using written and pictorial expedition sources combined with anthropological literature and British Museum collection records, highlight connections between Millais’s production and histories of British colonialism in the Guayana region. Particular attention will be paid to a featherwork headdress, which appears in both paintings, but has often been misidentified as a basket in The Boyhood of Raleigh, and consequently not recognized as the same object used for the Inca imperial crown in the earlier work. These visible and material connections will be considered in relation to Ralegh’s fantastical writings, which linked Guayana to Peru via El Dorado mythology, and informed his historiographic reconstruction as an icon of British imperialist masculinity during the 1840s-60s.

Ian Dudley is a Lecturer in Art History at Birkbeck and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Essex. His research focuses on relationships between histories of art and empire from the early modern period to the present. Recent work includes a study of Olmec colossal heads in the paintings of Aubrey Williams, published in Art History, and an examination of slavery visualisation in the sculpture of Stanley Greaves, forthcoming in Third Text. His 2017 doctoral thesis investigated Edward Goodall’s Sketches in British Guiana within the context of colonial geography and anthropology during the 1830-40s.

Ars Homo Erotica: Ten Years Later

A couple on a scooter holding rainbow flags drive past a busy street scene

26 November 2020, 18:00 — 20:00, Online

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Ars Homo Erotica exhibition opened at The National Museum in Warsaw on 10 June 2010. It examined the significance of homoerotic aesthetic and the homoerotic imagination in the history of art from ancient times until the present. This large-scale show had been devised as the museum’s contribution to the debate on the rights of the LGBTQ communities in Poland, in Eastern Europe, and in the larger world. The idea was proposed by the late Piotr Piotrowski, then the Director of the Warsaw Museum, as a major step of the Critical Museum project, which advocates the use of museum collections and resources to provide forum for debates on burning social and political issues at the time of conflict.

The exhibition was hotly discussed by the media from Poland to Canada, and was vehemently opposed by right-wing politicians in Poland.

This online debate will focus on the impact of the exhibition, which has been listed recently by Maura Reilly as one of the major events of curatorial activism. But, did it help to realign the field?

The event is organised jointly by Birkbeck’s Centre for Museum Cultures; PPV (Perverting the Power Vertical), a research and art platforms based at the FRINGE Centre (UCL SSEES/ Institute for Advanced Studies) and The Courtauld Institute of Art.


  • Introduction by Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius, Birkbeck; Michał Murawski, UCL, Maria Mileeva, Courtauld Institute of Art and Denis Maximov (PPV/Avenir Institute)
  • Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius, Ars Homo Erotica – Ten Years Later
  • Maura Reilly, Ars Homo Erotica and Curatorial Activism
  • Paweł Leszkowicz, The Biggest Curatorial Challenge: Queering the National Museums 
  • Tomasz Kitliński, Art versus Homophobia – the Polish Case
  • Anastasiia Fedorova, Curating Queer Russian Power
  • Katarzyna Perlak, presentation of her film Niolam Ja Se Kochaneczke (I once had a lover) 2016, and Happy Ever After
  • Q&A

Tomasz Kitliński and Paweł Leszkowicz

Tomasz Kitliński and Paweł Leszkowicz are LGBTQ-feminist activists. Tomasz is Professor of cultural studies at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, Paweł – Professor of Art History at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. They married in Brighton, England.

Tomasz studied with Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva, Paweł at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. Tomasz held a post of Fulbright scholar at the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies, New School for Social Research in New York, Pawel was a Fulbright scholar at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries in Los Angeles.  Both of them participated in Eastern Europe’s pioneering lesbian and gay visibility campaign Let Them See Us and, drawing on this experience, authored a Polish-language book Love and Democracy with an extensive English summary. Their other books include: Helen Chadwick: The Iconography of Subjectivity; Naked Man: The Male Nude in post-1945 Polish Art; The Stranger within Ourselves; and Art Pride. They published with Routledge, Palgrave Macmillan, New York University Press, and AICA-Centre Georges Pompidou.

Katarzyna Perlak

Katarzyna Perlak is a Polish born artist, based in London whose practice employs video, performance, sound and installation. Perlak’s work is driven by politics and feelings; examines queer subjectivities, migration and potentiality of affect as a tool for registering and archiving both present continuous and past historical moments. She currently explores ‘tender crafts’ methodologies and the relationships between notions of utopia, hope, horizon and the concept of the ‘wish landscape’.

Dr Kasia Murawska-Muthesius

Kasia Murawska-Muthesius is a former Deputy Director of the National Museum in Warsaw and an Associate Lecturer at Birkbeck, Department of History of Art. Among her publications are Borders in Art: Revisiting Kunstgeographie (2000); National Museum in Warsaw Guide: Galleries and Study Collections (2001); Kantor was Here: Tadeusz Kantor in Great Britain (Black Dog 2011), From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum (Ashgate 2015, with Piotr Piotrowski), and Maps and Images of Eastern Europe: Sarmatia Europea to Post-Communist Europe (forthcoming with Routledge).

Maura Reilly

Dr. Maura Reilly is a curator who has organized dozens of exhibitions internationally with a specific focus on marginalized artists. She has written extensively on global contemporary art and curatorial practice, including, most recently Curatorial Activism: Towards an Ethics of Curating (Thames & Hudson, 2018), which was named a “Top 10 Best Art Book of 2018” by the New York Times. Reilly is the Founding Curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, where she developed and launched the first exhibition and public programming space in the USA devoted entirely to feminist art. While there, she organized several landmark exhibitions, including the permanent installation of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, the blockbuster Global Feminisms (co-curated with Linda Nochlin), among many others. She is a founding member of two initiatives dedicated to fighting discrimination against women in the art world – The Feminist Art Project (TFAP) and Feminist Curators United (FcU). In 2015, Reilly was named one of the Top 50 most influential people in the art world by Art & Auction, in recognition of her advocacy for women artists. She received her M.A. and PhD in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and is an Editor-at-Large for the Brooklyn Rail. Reilly is Associate Professor of Art History and Museum Studies at Arizona State University.