Dr Ben Thomas is an art historian and curator. He has published on a wide range of art historical topics including sixteenth-century drawings, seventeenth-century prints, nineteenth-century sculpture, and modern and contemporary art. Recent books include Edgar Wind and Modern Art: In Defence of Marginal Anarchy (Bloomsbury, 2021), Raphael: Drawing and Eloquence (edited with Catherine Whistler, Accademia Raffaello, 2020) and Humphrey Ocean (Royal Academy of Arts, 2019).
Ben has curated many exhibitions, notably as the founding Curator of Kent’s Studio 3 Gallery from 2010 until 2015. In this role, he worked with a wide range of contemporary artists including Art & Language, John Blackburn, Paul Coldwell, Rose Hilton, Philip Hughes, Ana Maria Pacheco, Marcus Rees Roberts, Brian Rice, Richard Rome, Aithan Shapira, and Hani Zurob.
He was co-curator with Catherine Whistler of Raphael: The Drawings at the Ashmolean Museum (1 June – 3 September 2017), described by The Financial Times as ‘a game-changing presentation of graphic art’. This exhibition was awarded the 'exhibition of the year' award by Apollo magazine, and a Global Fine Art award. He gave a paper at Royal Holloway, University of London reflecting on his experience curating this exhibition. He was also the curator of the exhibition Drawing Together at the Courtauld Gallery (30 September 2017 – 2 January 2018), which explored the nature of drawing through a selection of works in the Courtauld’s collection and by the contemporary artists Stephen Farthing, Humphrey Ocean and Jenny Saville. Other exhibitions he has curated include The Paradox of Mezzotint at UCL Art Gallery in 2008 and Alfred Drury and the New Sculpture at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery in Leeds in 2014.
In 2005, he founded the Kent Print Collection, a museum-standard collection of prints where only undergraduate students can make acquisitions for the university. To date this collection has generated eleven student-curated exhibitions including the 2021 exhibition Fascinating Fears.
Ben studied at the University of Oxford, where his postgraduate studies in History of Art were supervised by David Ekserdjian and David Franklin. He received a doctorate in 1997 for a dissertation on debates in Renaissance Italy comparing painting and sculpture. While at Oxford he was research assistant to Margaret Wind, working on the scholarly archive of her husband, the art historian Edgar Wind. Ben 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 taught him 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.
He was a trustee of the Association for Art History, and is currently an external member of the Exhibitions Committee of the Royal Academy of Arts.
Ben trained as a Renaissance art historian, and the art of sixteenth-century Italy remains one of his principal areas of research, along with the history of prints and drawings.
His current research projects include two books: Multiple Histories – Episodes in the History of Printmaking and The Descent of Memory. Working as a curator his research often takes a practice-based form.
Ben believes that knowledge is acquired and retained more effectively when learning is an active and creative process. He also believes that in order to teach Art History properly students have to have direct access to works of art. These two principles lay behind his development of the module Print Collecting and Curating, a course where students put on an exhibition of their own devising working with the Kent Print Collection. Ben was 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 and Art in Print. This module brought him international recognition as an innovative teacher in the field, and he has been nominated for national prizes. In 2008 he was awarded Kent’s Humanities Faculty Teaching Prize and he 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. He was awarded the Barbara Morris Prize for Learning Support by the University of Kent in 2012.
Ben is committed to achieving the highest standards as a teacher and to sharing good practice across the profession. He was awarded a PGCHE by the University of Kent in 2001, and he has acted as an external examiner at the University of Oxford, University College Cork, the University of Reading, the Courtauld Institute and the University of Leicester.
He currently convenes the following undergraduate modules:
At postgraduate level he convenes the MA in Curating.
Ben is currently supervising a broad range of PhD projects ranging from the Renaissance to the contemporary.
He has previously supervised research projects on Rubens and the concept of Imitation, Annibale Carracci and the Farnese Gallery, Vittore Carpaccio, Giotto and liturgical drama, the cultural influence of Aby Warburg in twentieth-century Italy, Raphael, Michelangelo and the corporate collecting of contemporary art.
Ben welcomes applications for postgraduate study by research under his supervision across the field of the History of Art. His own areas of research expertise include: