The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, T +44 (0)1227 764000
Dr Ben Thomas
History and Philosophy of Art
- 01227 82(3403)
Ben Thomas is an art historian who has developed approaches that put activities like curating and drawing at the heart of the learning process.
I am an art historian. I studied at the University of Oxford from 1987, where my postgraduate studies in Art History were supervised by David Ekserdjian and David Franklin. I received a doctorate in 1997 for a dissertation on debates in Renaissance Italy comparing painting and sculpture. While at Oxford I was research assistant to Margaret Wind, working on the scholarly archive of her husband, the art historian Edgar Wind. I was also fortunate to work at the Ashmolean Museum as the Fortnum Archive Project Officer and as a print cataloguer in the library of Worcester College. This combination of experiences at Oxford taught me that Art History involves looking carefully while asking questions, that it is part of a tradition of humanistic enquiry, and that the material object has to be at its heart.
I was appointed to a lectureship in History & Theory of Art at the University of Kent in 1999, and from 2007 until 2010 I was the Head of History & Philosophy of Art. At Kent I have taught widely across the field of Art History, but principally in the areas of Renaissance, Baroque and eighteenth-century art. I have also developed practice-based approaches to teaching Art History that put activities like curating and drawing at the heart of the process of learning, thereby adapting skills I acquired while working as a curator, archivist and cataloguer. In 2005 I founded the Kent Print Collection, a museum-standard collection of prints where all acquisitions are made by undergraduate students, and since 2010 I have been the Curator of the Studio 3 Gallery, developing the gallery as a learning resource, a spring-board for careers in the art world (through the volunteering scheme) and as a space to see the highest quality art.
Academia.edu entryback to top
- Ben Thomas and Timothy Wilson (eds), C. D. E. Fortnum and the collecting and study of applied arts and sculpture in Victorian England, Ashmolean Publications/Oxford University Press, 1999.
- The Paradox of Mezzotint, exhibition catalogue, Canterbury, 2008.
- Jon Kear and Ben Thomas, In Elysium: Prints by James Barry, exhibition catalogue, Canterbury: Studio 3 Gallery, 2010.
Chapters in books:
- 'Disegno: Superficial Line or Universal Design?' in Ita MacCarthy (ed.), Seven Renaissance Keywords, Legenda/Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 27-40.
- 'Passing through…' in Paul Coldwell, A Layered Practice: Graphic Works 1993-2012, Canterbury: Studio 3 Gallery, 2012, pp. 9-23.
- ‘Artefici and Huomini Intendenti: Questions of Artistic Value in Sixteenth-Century Italy’, in Rupert Shepherd & Gabriele Neher (eds), Revaluing Renaissance Art, Ashgate Press, 2000, pp. 43-56.
- ‘“The art consists of hiding the art”: Castiglione and Raphael’, in Antonella Braida and Giuliana Pieri (eds), Image and Word. Reflections of Art and Literature from the Middle Ages to the Present, Legenda/Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 134-50.
- ‘Casa Vasari: writing and decorating the artist’s house’, in Harald Hendrix (ed.), Writers’ Houses and the Making of Memory, Routledge, 2007, pp. 139-48.
- ‘Noble or Commercial? The Early History of Mezzotint in England’, in Michael Hunter (ed.), Printed Images in Early Modern Britain, Ashgate, 2010, pp. 279-96.
- ‘In search of the Kentemporary: a brief essay in Kentish art history’, in Patricia Chan (ed.), Krikey! Kentemporary Prints, exhibition catalogue, Canterbury: Studio 3 Gallery, 2010, pp. 8-11.
- 'John Evelyn's Project of Translation', Art in Print, 2, 4, 2012, pp. 28-34.
- ‘Hercules and the Hydra: C. D. E. Fortnum, Arthur Evans and the Ashmolean Museum’, Journal of the History of Collections 11, 2, 1999, pp. 159-69.
- ‘The Fortnum Archive in the Ashmolean Museum’, Journal of the History of Collections 11, 2, 1999, pp. 253-68.
- ‘The Lantern of Painting: Michelangelo, Daniele da Volterra and the paragone’, Apollo, CLIV, 474, August, 2001, pp. 46-53.
- ‘Finding Ovid through Raphael in the Schools of the Tombs’, Art on the Line, 1, 2, 2003, pp. 1-11.
- ‘The Academy of Baccio Bandinelli’, Print Quarterly, XXII, 1, 2005, pp. 3-14.
Catalogues of National Holdings:
- Calendar of the Fortnum Papers at the Ashmolean Museum, 1999. Available for consultation with microfiche at the National Art Library.
- Timothy Clayton and Ben Thomas, George Clarke Print Collection, Worcester College, Oxford, 2000.
- Paul Coldwell, A Layered Practice: Graphic Works 1993-2012, Studio 3 Gallery, University of Kent, 14 January – 5 April, 2013 and The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, 14 June – 11 July, 2013.
- John Blackburn, And God Cryed, Studio 3 Gallery, University of Kent, 24 September – 14 December 2012, Studio 3 Gallery, University of Kent.
- Ana Maria Pacheco, Shadows of the Wanderer, Studio 3 Gallery, University of Kent, 17 January – 27 May 2011.
- In Elysium: Prints by James Barry, co-curated with Jon Kear, Studio 3 Gallery, University of Kent, 4 October – 17 December 2010.
- The Paradox of Mezzotint, Museum of Canterbury 12 April – 11 June 2008; Strang Print Room, UCL, 2 July – 31 October 2008.
- Van Dyck pinxit/After Van Dyck, Museum of Canterbury, May-November 2006.
- 'Michael Baxandall, Patterns of Intention' and 'Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite' in Diana Newall and Grant Pooke (eds), Fifty Key Texts in Art History, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 32-36 and 169-174.
- ‘Wind, Edgar Marcel (1900-1971)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
- ‘Enea Vico, The Academy of Baccio Bandinelli’, in David Franklin (ed.), Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and the Renaissance in Florence, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Canada, 2005, no. 100, pp. 278-9.
- ‘Daniele da Volterra: David and Goliath’, in David Franklin (ed.), The Art of Papal Rome, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Canada, 2009, no. 69, pp. 250-51.
- ‘Michael Baxandall, Patterns of Intention’ and ‘Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists’, in Diana Newall and Grant Pooke (eds), 50 Key Texts in Art History, Routledge [forthcoming].
I believe that knowledge is acquired and retained more effectively when learning is an active and creative process. I also believe that in order to teach Art History properly students have to have direct access to works of art. These two principles lay behind my development of the module HA573 Print Collecting and Curating, a course where students put on an exhibition of their own devising working with the Kent Print Collection. I was also concerned that this module should develop key skills and provide practical experience relevant to a career in the art world. This was an approach to teaching Art History that produced remarkable results with student-curated exhibitions being included in the schedules of professional museums and their catalogues being reviewed in Print Quarterly. This module brought me international recognition as an innovative teacher in the field, and I have been nominated for national prizes. In 2008 I was awarded Kent’s Humanities Faculty Teaching Prize and I was nominated by Kent for the National Teaching Fellowship in 2006 and 2008, and for the Times Higher Education teaching award in 2008 and 2010. I was awarded the Barbara Morris Prize for Learning Support by the University of Kent in 2012
I am committed to achieving the highest standards as a teacher and to sharing good practice across the profession. I was awarded a PGCHE by the University of Kent in 2001, and I have acted as an external examiner at the University of Oxford, University College Cork, the University of Reading, and I am currently external examiner at the Courtauld Institute.
I am also committed to pursuing research-led and interdisciplinary teaching. I contribute to the teaching of the MA in Eighteenth Century Studies and the MA in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, both delivered by cross-faculty centres. 'I convene the MA in Curating'. I currently convene the following undergraduate modules in the HPA programme:
- HA502 Art and Architecture of the Renaissance
- HA504 Classicism and Baroque
- HA573 Print Collecting and Curating
- HA598 High Art and Low Life
- HA648 Drawing on History
As a researcher I am principally concerned with Italian art of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Here my focus has been on sculpture and the problems it posed for art theory, and on the graphic arts, particularly prints. However, questions arising from my interest in the ambiguous relationship between art theory and artistic practice, about the collecting and categorization of works of art, and about the historiography of art, have led me occasionally beyond Italy and the Renaissance period. The research methods I employ have largely been derived from art historians working in what could broadly be conceived of as the Warburgian tradition. I certainly agree with Aby Warburg that ‘Der liebe Gott steckt im Detail’.
I am currently pursuing two major research projects. Firstly, I am writing a book called The Artist and the Print which aims to analyse the role played by prints in shaping and changing the status and identity of the artist from 1500-1800, and also the way in which the availability of prints informed the writing of Art History during the same period. Another aspect of this project is that I have curated exhibitions based on my research on prints, including The Paradox of Mezzotint which showed at the Strang Print Room, UCL, in 2008.
Secondly, I am the co-organiser of a research network investigating Art Histories, Cultural studies and the Cold War. My particular interest here is the art historian Edgar Wind and how his art historical method reflected Cold War politics and ideology.back to top
I am currently supervising Tiziana Villani who is writing a doctoral dissertation on the cultural influence of Aby Waburg in twentieth-century Italy.
I have previously supervised research projects on Rubens and the concept of Imitation, Annibale Carracci and the Farnese Gallery, Vittore Carpaccio, and Giotto and liturgical drama.
I welcome applications for postgraduate study by research under my supervision in the areas of Renaissance art theory, Renaissance sculpture, the history of prints, the history of collecting, the historiography of art, and generally in aspects of European Art History c.1450-1800.back to top