When Mary Baldwin College instituted its unique interdisciplinary program in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature in 2001, the committee asked me to teach a complementary course in English art. What seemed like a reasonable request turned into a monumental research project when I realized that no suitable survey of English art existed. Most of the relevant material was scattered in hundreds of narrowly specialized or thematic books, catalogues, and articles; even the recent series on British art published by the Tate Britain was not appropriate as a guide for a general introduction to English art. Access to images for me and for the students presented a problem. Lack of slides turned me to digital images and multiple websites. Still difficult was having the ability to arrange the images chronologically so that the issues I wished to emphasize were evident. Here is where ARTstor eventually came to the rescue.
The course I developed is arranged contextually and sequentially, following the reigns of English monarchs. I emphasize the relationships among art, politics, patronage, developments on the Continent, and how the monarchy and nobility used art to promote their power. I note distinctive qualities of English art that cross media and time lines.
Mary Baldwin College gained access to ARTstor in late 2008 as a part of a Mellon Foundation grant given to a regional consortium of 10 colleges. I immediately began to build and maintain course image groups with subfolders. As the image groups I created increased in size (often as ARTstor acquired more images), the improvement in student enthusiasm and success increased exponentially. ARTstor has transformed the course on English art; it also could increase the options our graduate students have for researching original staging practices and costuming. The image groups that cover Henry VIII to Elizabeth I are especially helpful.
An important outgrowth of this work has been my current book project on Early English art, for which I need travel support. The book will be a nine-chapter, broad, integrated survey of art and architecture in England that will be useful to art and architectural historians, the wider academic world, and the general audience interested in English history and literature. Six of the chapters are complete; the last three are in detailed draft form. The ARTstor image folders that I developed for the course also serve to organize the illustrations for my book. These images lead me to what images are available and the information on the labels leads me to where to acquire photographs for the book. A prestigious publisher of art history books has expressed strong interest in my work, and the editor notes that no other book takes this much-needed chronological and contextual approach. I want to finish while she is still interested!
Image caption: Hans Holbein the Younger | Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII of England, 1536 | Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria | Image and original data provided by Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.