Portrait of Dr Ben Thomas

Dr Ben Thomas

Reader
Head of Histories: Art, Drama and Film Research Cluster

About

I am an art historian and curator.

I was co-curator with Catherine Whistler of Raphael: The Drawings [12] at the Ashmolean Museum (1 June – 3 September 2017), described by The Financial Times as ‘a game-changing presentation of graphic art’. This exhibition also received ***** reviews from The Guardian, The Times and The Telegraph, and was awarded the 'exhibition of the year' award by Apollo Magazine, and a Global Fine Art award.

I 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.

At Kent, I am the convenor of the MA Curating and I was the founding Curator of Kent’s Studio 3 Gallery from 2010 until 2015. In this role, I 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. Other exhibitions I have 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, I 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 seven student-curated exhibitions including 2017’s P is for Pop, P is for Print, a survey of prints by British Pop artists.

One of my principal research areas is the history of printmaking and print culture, and as a historian of print I contribute to the School of Arts’ Media Studies degree. Also relevant here is the module Costume & Fashion which I convene.

I studied at the University of Oxford, where my postgraduate studies in History of Art 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 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 am currently a trustee of the Association for Art History.

Research interests

I trained as a Renaissance art historian, and the art of sixteenth-century Italy remains one of my principal areas of research, along with the history of prints and drawings.

I am currently writing a book entitled Marginal Anarchy: Edgar Wind and Modern Art, in which I explore the Renaissance art historian, Edgar Wind’s interest in modern art. The historiography of art is another of my research interests.
Often, working as a curator, my research takes a practice-based form, resulting in exhibitions and catalogues. To download examples of exhibition catalogues I have authored please go to:

https://kent.academia.edu/BenThomas

Teaching

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 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 and Art in Print. 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 at the Courtauld Institute.

I currently convene the following undergraduate modules:

  • Art and Architecture of the Renaissance
  • Classicism and Baroque
  • Costume & Fashion
  • Surrealism: Myth and Modernity
  • Print Collecting and Curating
  • Drawing on History

At postgraduate level I convene the MA Curating and the module History & Theory of Curating.

Supervision

I am currently supervising a broad range of Phd projects, including sixteenth-century printmaking, seventeenth-century Bolognese art, through to aspects of modern and contemporary art.

I have previously supervised research projects on Rubens and the concept of Imitation, Annibale Carracci and the Farnese Gallery, Vittore Carpaccio, Giotto and liturgical drama, and the cultural influence of Aby Warburg in twentieth-century Italy.

I welcome applications for postgraduate study by research under my supervision across the field of the History of Art. My own areas of research expertise include:

  • Renaissance and Baroque Art
  • Prints and Drawings
  • Historiography of Art
  • History of Collecting and Curating
  • Sculpture

Publications

Showing 50 of 73 total publications in the Kent Academic Repository. View all publications.

Article

  • Thomas, B. (2017). Jim Dine and Pinocchio. Arabeschi [Online] 10. Available at: http://www.arabeschi.it/16-jim-dine-and-pinocchio/.
  • Thomas, B. (2016). Alfred Drury: The Artist as Curator. 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. 2016(22):1-13.
    This article presents a series of reflections on the experience of curating the exhibition ‘Alfred Drury and the New Sculpture’ in 2013. In particular, it charts the evolution of the design of the exhibition, notably its central tableau based on a photograph of the sculptor Alfred Drury’s studio in 1900. This photograph records a display of Drury’s works for visiting Australian patrons, and could be said to record evidence of the artist curating his own work. The legitimacy of deriving a curatorial approach from this photographic evidence is discussed, along with the broader problem of ‘historicizing’ approaches to curating.
  • Thomas, B. and Whistler, C. (2016). Eloquence in Raphael Drawings. Artibus et Historiae 74:25-36.
  • Thomas, B. (2015). ’The child is father of the man’: Alfred Drury and temporality. Sculpture Journal [Online] 24:55-72. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3828/sj.2015.24.1.5.
    This article takes a thematic approach to analyse aspects of the sculpture of Alfred Drury (1856–1944), notably his concern with temporality, both as an iconographical leitmotif of his works, and as a characteristic of the ‘realistic allegory’ typical of the late nineteenth-century New Sculpture of which this artist was a key exponent. Drury’s poetic treatment of childhood, particularly in his series of pensive heads of girls exemplified by The Age of Innocence of 1897, displays a Wordsworthian awareness of the passing of time, and a dawning sense of mortality – so that the poet’s well-known lines ‘the child is father of the man’ could also be applied to Drury’s sculptural works. New archival evidence will be presented to demonstrate how Drury’s sensitive treatment of childhood could take on a wider social dimension, for example in the debates surrounding the commission of the Edward VII memorial in Sheffield.
  • Thomas, B. (2015). Edgar Wind. A Short Biography. Stan Rzeczy [Online] 8:117-137. Available at: http://www.stanrzeczy.edu.pl/tom/stan-rzeczy-08/.
  • Thomas, B. (2015). The Early Prints of Marcus Rees Roberts. Art in Print [Online] 5:7-11. Available at: http://artinprint.org/article/the-early-prints-of-marcus-rees-roberts/.
  • Thomas, B. (2012). John Evelyn’s Project of Translation. Art in Print [Online]:28-34. Available at: http://artinprint.org/index.php.

Book

  • Whistler, C. and Thomas, B. (2017). Raphael: The Drawings. Ashmolean.
  • Thomas, B. (2017). Drawing Together. Paul Holberton Publishing.
    Catalogue accompanying the exhibition Drawing Together held at The Courtauld Gallery 30 September 2017 - 2 January 2018
  • Hammer, M. and Thomas, B. (2015). My Generation: A Festival of British Art in the 1960s. GB: University of Kent at Canterbury.
  • Kear, J. and Thomas, B. (2010). In Elysium: Prints by James Barry. Canterbury, UK: Studio 3 Gallery, University of Kent.
    Catalogue accompanying an exhibition in Studio 3 Gallery, Canterbury, 4 October - 17 December 2010.
  • Thomas, B. (2008). The Paradox of Mezzotint, Exhibition Catalogue. Canterbury.

Book section

  • Thomas, B. (2019). Raphael’s Drawings: Invention, Disposition, and Demonstration. In: Faietti, M. and Gnann, A. eds. Raffael Als Zeichner / Raffaello Disegnatore. Giunti Editore, pp. 345-357.
    Based on a paper given at the Raffaels Zeichnungen conference at the Albertina in Vienna in 2017.
  • Thomas, B. (2017). Raphael and the Idea of Drawing. In: Raphael: The Drawings. Ashmolean, pp. 43-55.
  • Grindle, N. and Thomas, B. (2017). Curating connections in the art history curriculum. In: Developing the Higher Education Curriculum: Research-Based Education in Practice. UCL Press, pp. 106-117. Available at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/developing-the-higher-education-curriculum.
  • Thomas, B. (2012). Paul Coldwell: Passing through. In: Coldwell, P. ed. Paul Coldwell: A Layered Practice - Graphic Works 1993-2012. University of Kent at Canterbury: Studio 3 Gallery.
  • Thomas, B. (2012). Disegno: Superficial Line or Universal Design?. In: MacCarthy, I. ed. Renaissance Keywords. Oxford: Oxford University Press/Legenda, pp. 27-40.
  • Thomas, B. (2010). Noble or Commercial? The Early History of Mezzotint in Britain. In: Hunter, M. ed. Printed Images In Early Modern Britain. Essays in Interpretation. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, pp. 279-296.
  • Thomas, B. (2007). Casa Vasari: writing and decorating the artist’s house. In: Hendrix, H. ed. Writers’ Houses and the Making of Memory. Routledge, pp. 139-148.

Conference or workshop item

  • Thomas, B. (2008). Disegno. In: Renaissance Keywords.
  • Thomas, B. (2008). The Truest Poetry is the Most Feigning: Edgar Wind on Art and Morals during the Cold War. In: Cultural Memory:Forgetting to Remember/Remembering to Forget, KIASH Conference.
  • Thomas, B. (2008). Noble or Commercial? The Early History of Mezzotint in Britain. In: British Printed Images to 1700.
  • Thomas, B. (2008). The Locations of Art in the Mezzotints of Wallerant Vaillant. In: Early Modern Prints Symposium and Study Day.
  • Thomas, B. (2008). The Paradox of Mezzotint. In: Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies.
  • Thomas, B. (2006). The Many Faces of Lucas van Leyden and Other Stories: Some Historiographical Reflections on the Pictorum aliquot celebrium Germaniae inferioris effigies of Domenicus Lampsonius. In: Courtauld Institute Research Seminar.
  • Thomas, B. (2006). Framing Giambologna’s Rape of a Sabine. In: Renaissance Society of America Annual Conference.
  • Thomas, B. (2005). Casa Vasari: writing and decorating the artist’s house. In: Writers’ Houses and the Construction of (Trans)National Cultural Memory, ACUME European Thematic Network Conference.

Edited book

  • Thomas, B. (2013). Alfred Drury and the New Sculpture. Read, B., Drury, J., Landy, B., Winfrey, J., Matjyjaskiewicz, K. and Thomas, B. D. H. eds. Studio 3 Gallery, University of Kent.
  • Thomas, B. (2012). Double Take: The Art of Printmaking. Thomas, B. D. H. ed. Studio 3 Gallery.
    Exhibition catalogue for a Studio 3 Gallery exhibition 16 January - 14 May 2012
  • Thomas, B. (2008). The Art of Comedy, Exhibition Catalogue. Thomas, B. D. H. ed. Canterbury.
  • Thomas, B.D.H. ed. (2007). Dreams and Nightmares, Exhibition Catalogue. Canterbury.
  • Thomas, B.D.H. ed. (2006). The Awakening, Exhibition Catalogue. Canterbury.

Show / exhibition

  • Thomas, B. (2018). Drawing Together. [Exhibition]. Available at: http://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/what-on/exhibitions-displays/drawing-together.
    An exhibition of drawings largely from The Courtauld Gallery collection, including works by the contemporary artists Stephen Farthing, Humphrey Ocean and Jenny Saville.
  • Whistler, C. and Thomas, B. (2017). Raphael: The Drawings. [Exhibition]. Available at: https://www.ashmolean.org/event/raphael-drawings.
  • Thomas, B. (2016). Dungeness: Philip Hughes with Psiche Hughes. [Exhibition].
    Exhibition of paintings, photographs and ceramics by the artists Philip and Psiche Hughes
  • Thomas, B. (2015). Palindrome: The Sixties Art of Brian Rice and Richard Rome. [Exhibition].
  • Thomas, B. (2014). Marcus Rees Roberts: Winter Journey. [Exhibition].
  • Thomas, B. (2013). Alfred Drury and the New Sculpture. [Exhibition].
  • Thomas, B. and El Saqqa, A. (2013). Resilience and Light: Contemporary Palestinian Art. [Exhibition].
  • Thomas, B. (2013). Paul Coldwell: A Layered Practice - Graphic Works 1992-2012. [Exhibition].
  • Shawa, L. and Zurob, H. (2013). Resilience & Light: Contemporary Palestinian Art. [Exhibition].
    Exhibition of art by Taysir Batniji, Hazim Harb, Mohammed Joha, Laila Shawa, and Hani Zurob.
  • Blackburn, J., Thomas, B. and Hopkinson, M. (2012). John Blackburn: And God Cryed, Studio 3 Gallery, 24 September - 14 December 2012. [Exhibition with exhibition catalogue]. Available at: http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/studio3gallery/.
    Exhibition of works spanning the career of the painter John Blackburn, focusing on recent 'black' paintings. Supported by Osborne Samuel and by a grant from the Association of Art Historians.
  • Thomas, B. (2011). Ana Maria Pacheco: Shadows of the Wanderer. [Exhibition].
  • Thomas, B. and Kear, J. (2010). In Elysium: Prints by James Barry. [Exhibition].
    An exhibition of 41 original prints by James Barry and other printmakers.
  • Thomas, B. (2008). The Paradox of Mezzotint. [Prints].
    An exhibition of original prints after Titian, Guido Reni, Lely, Kneller, Hogarth, Gainsborough, Wright of Derby, Kauffman and Reynolds
  • Thomas, B. (2006). Van Dyck pinxit/After Van Dyck. [Prints].
    An exhibition of seventeenth and eighteenth-century prints after Van Dyck

Thesis

  • Kocsis, A. (2017). The Functions of Texts in Printed Images: Text and Image in Reproductive Prints by Hieronymus Cock, Antonio Salamanca, and Antonio Lafreri.
    This thesis provides a systematic analysis of textual frameworks in reproductive prints issued by three sixteenth-century publishers. The main purpose is to highlight the role of additional texts in the process of transmitting images by significant artists to a wide circle of audiences. The analysis of the relation between text and image in single sheet prints helps to reconsider the historical function of reproductive prints by introducing a point of view that is different from earlier scholarship. I argue that textual commentaries attached to printed images were intended to take part in the art theoretical discourse of their time. Inscriptions contextualised artistic achievements and helped to form the viewer's response to the image by commenting on the artistic significance of the picture or on the excellence of the artist. The analysis of additional texts reveals the artistic and historical consciousness inherent in the prints, especially in the case of the sheets published by Hieronymus Cock. Hence, my thesis demonstrates the special role of prints in the northern art theoretical context.
    The present study also considers the role of prints beyond their artistic use. The "utilitarian" function of prints is explored through case studies. The connection between the culture of love and prints is examined in the chapter on Antonio Salamanca. Examples by Hieronymus Cock and Antonio Lafreri provide a comparative perspective on religious prints in the era of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Through the case studies, my thesis points out how the historical context influenced the selection of quotations or the commission of contemporary texts, and touches upon the importance of the collaboration between humanists (art theoreticians and poets) and the protagonists of the print world. The comparative European perspective highlights the specific and general characteristics of the inscribed texts in the prints from Antwerp and Rome. While previous scholarship emphasised the model role of the Roman publishers, this thesis nuances the picture with the hypothesis of mutual exchange between Lafreri and Cock, indicating the correlation among prints produced for the common European market.

Forthcoming

  • Thomas, B. (2017). Raphael’s drawings: invention, disposition, and demonstration. In: Raffaels Zeichnungen, Internationales Symposium.
  • Thomas, B. (2017). Raphael: Singular Acts of Drawing. In: Singular Acts: The Role of the Individual in the Transformation of Collective Culture, The Warburg Institute Second Postgraduate Symposium.
  • Thomas, B. (2016). Freedom and Exile: Edgar Wind and the Congress for Cultural Freedom. In: Crossing Continents: Exile and Expatriate Histories of Art. Routledge.
    During the years 1952-53 the art historian and philosopher Edgar Wind participated in several major cultural events organized by the Congress for Cultural Freedom – notably the arts festival Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century in Paris in 1952, and the conference Science and Freedom in Hamburg in 1953. Wind’s involvement in this high profile anti-communist organization, covertly funded by the CIA, led him to reflect on his experience of exile, the threat posed to The Warburg Institute by the Nazis in the 1930s, and the parallels with his current experience of American academia at the height of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s influence. The moving impact of his return to Hamburg in 1953 prompted Wind to make an unusually personal definition of freedom as resulting from ‘the breaking up of habitus’, contrasting with Martin Heidegger’s contemporary concept of ‘dwelling’ and closer to Theodor Adorno’s argument in Minima Moralia that ‘dwelling, in the proper sense, is now impossible’ and that today ‘it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home’.
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