Placing Prints: New Developments in the Study of Prints, 1400-1800

Report on the Courtauld Joint Annual Renaissance Early Modern Postgraduate Symposium: “Placing Prints: New Developments in the Study of Prints, 1400-1800”.

On 12th and 13th February 2016 The Courtauld Institute of Art hosted a Joint Annual Renaissance Early Modern Postgraduate Symposium, entitled “Placing Prints: New Developments in the Study of Print, 1400-1800”. The two-day conference stemmed from shared research interests of four PhD Candidates at The Courtauld, working both in the Renaissance and Early Modern sections. The overwhelming international interest we received from our Call for Papers confirmed the need of such an event and encouraged us to expand the initial programme.

The aim of the conference was creating a platform for students, early career scholars, collectors, art lovers and established researchers to meet and exchange their research, methodologies and approaches. The symposium offered a rich and diverse programme, covering numerous aspects of print culture and scholarly approaches. This was exemplified by the fifteen panels, each focusing on a specific subject such as Ornament, Reproduction, Theory, Politics and Propaganda, Use and Collecting….

A lively poster session, led by international Ph.D. students and early career professionals, kicked off the conference on Friday morning. The session was extremely well attended and provided an excellent opportunity for informal discussion and networking. At the same time, in the Prints and Drawings Study Room of The Courtauld, the conference organisers gave introductions to a display that they curated for the occasion. Drawing from The Courtauld Gallery Collection of prints, the display was entitled “Courtauld Prints: The Making of a Collection” and it aimed at illustrating the history of the print collection with particular focus on key collectors and benefactors, such as Samuel Courtauld, Sir Robert Witt, and Count Antoine Seilern.

Antony Griffiths, former Keeper of Prints and Drawings at The British Museum, delivered a utterly stimulating keynote addressing how the appreciation, understanding and study of prints developed throughout his distinguished career. As a thought-provoking prequel to the conference, he ended with suggesting new avenues of research that print study can benefit from. This was exactly the aim of the conference, and it was indeed impressive to listen to so many papers exploring new areas and methods. Attending the sheer variety of panels very much felt like viewing prints through a kaleidoscope, revealing the interdisciplinary quality characterising the study of print.

The event was organised with the partnership of Print Quarterly, the scholarly journal dedicated to the art of print, and it was made possible thanks to the generosity of The Courtauld Institute, CHASE, and private individuals. In order to promote the conference, we set up a Twitter account (@PlacingPrints), which is still active providing a further platform for anyone interested in prints. A glimpse of the event can be caught scrolling through the ‘digital story’ of the conference, which can be found here.  The conference has already sparked possible publication, future symposia and dedicated blog.

Overall, the conference was an inspiring disproval of Count Seiler’s fears who in a letter of 15 June 1942 wrote: “It’s deplorable, but the interest for prints is diminishing”. As commented by numerous conference attendees, the presence of so many students and early career scholars suggest that there is in fact a bright future for the study of print.

Written by Tatiana Bissolati, Chloe Gilling (The Courtauld Instituties of Art, CHASE-funded students) and Naomi Lebens and Bryony Bartlett-Rawlings (The Courtauld Institute of Art).