We caught up with Genevieve to find out more about her fellowship, the upcoming conference Venetian Disegno: New Frontiers that she is organising, her experience of studying at the Warburg and her plans for the future.
Please could you tell us a bit about your current fellowship at the British Museum?
I am currently the Getty Paper Project Fellow in the Department of Prints and Drawings. This 18-month position is funded by the Getty’s initiative to support and train young curators of Works on Paper. Accordingly, my role is to participate in the curatorial duties of the Department, with which I already had some familiarity after having held another fellowship in the Department 4 years ago. The current Covid situation means that over the past 6 months since I started my fellowship, I have been working remotely on researching and writing catalogue entries of our collection of Claude Lorrain drawings – which numbers over 400 objects – for the online database. Once I am back in the museum, I will be working on re-organising the collection of Claude Lorrain drawings prior to moving on to other projects.
You’ve also undertaken two other fellowships, could you tell us a bit about those? Any particular highlights?
As someone whose career focus is in the curatorial field, I have been fortunate to have held a further two museum-based fellowships, namely the Bromberg Fellowship at the British Museum and the Kress Fellowship at The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. As mentioned above, the first was the Bromberg Fellowship that I completed prior to starting at the Warburg for which the emphasis was on learning the fundamentals of curatorial responsibilities including cataloguing, updating records and facilitating public visits to the collection.
My time at The Morgan coincided with the third year of my PhD, and the principal condition of the Kress Fellowship was that I work on completing my doctoral thesis. I was also given the opportunity to participate in the rich and diverse programme of The Morgan’s Drawing Institute, including those in relation to two major exhibitions, namely ‘Drawing in Tintoretto’s Venice’ and ‘Invention and Design: Early Italian Renaissance Drawings from the Morgan’.
Though there have been many highlights of both of these fellowships, one standout was the opening of the ‘Invention and Design’ exhibition at The Morgan as it coincided with the publication of The Morgan’s Italian Renaissance drawings catalogue which had been 25 years in gestation. It was wonderful to assist in the final stages of completing the catalogue and to join in the celebrations at the end of this momentous project.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learnt so far during your career?
Two interrelated things – expect the unexpected and everything takes longer than expected.
What’s the best piece of advice you have received?
A wise scholar once told me to stay true to your beliefs, suck it up and ride the storm. Their advice has never failed me.
You are co-organising the upcoming online conference Venetian Disegno: New Frontiers. Could you tell us a bit more about the idea behind this conference and what participants can expect over the two days?
The purpose of the conference is to draw attention to the importance that ‘disegno’ in all its manifestations played in artistic practices across the Veneto between circa 1420 and 1620. The idea was a product of discussions between myself and the co-organiser, Thomas Dalla Costa, about our respective research on aspects of this subject as we hold very similar opinions. We also realised that we knew of many colleagues who were working on comparable aspects of ‘Venetian disegno’ and that scholarship on the topic had developed significantly over the last few years. Therefore, we thought that it was time that this research was finally brought together and so we were very grateful when the Warburg agreed to host the online conference.
Over the past few months, we have been working on inviting speakers, chairs and roundtable participants in order to devise a programme that attests to the breadth, scope and interest of the topic. Over the two afternoons of the conference, (virtual) attendees should consequently expect a varied schedule with papers addressing the role of, and innovations in, ‘disegno’ in varied media including drawing, printmaking, underdrawing, architecture and sculpture. We have gathered the papers around themes such as ‘Function’, ‘Media’ and ‘Prestige’ in order to allow for discussion between presenters and chairs at the end of each session. The conference will conclude with a roundtable discussion that will reflect on the proceedings of the two days and consider what further progress can be made in our understanding of ‘Venetian disegno’. The conference, therefore, promises to be lively and intellectually stimulating.
What are the benefits and challenges of organising a virtual conference?
Virtual conferences are a double-edged sword! Quite simply put, the prime benefit is that the online format has facilitated the participation of scholars that might otherwise have been difficult, especially in the time of Covid: we have participants from Los Angeles, New York, Venice and Munich, for instance.
On the flipside, however, the virtual conference denies us of the opportunity of bringing people together in the same way – I can remember so many wonderful conversations and have forged many friendships during ‘tea breaks’ and ‘closing drinks’ at other conferences that simply cannot happen online.
What did you study during your time at the Warburg Institute?
My time at the Warburg was focussed on researching and writing my doctoral thesis, ‘Bartolomeo and Benedetto Montagna and the Role of the Graphic Arts in Vicenza, 1480–1520’. This correspondingly meant that I spent a lot of time using the resources on ‘Floor 1’ specifically related to the art of Venice and the Veneto during the Renaissance in addition to those focussing on drawing and printmaking. My supervisors were David Freedberg and Michelle O’Malley, to both of whom I am grateful for supporting my research and encouraging my other activities such as fellowships, grant applications and presenting at conferences. My PhD was sponsored by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP) and additional funding from the Delmas Foundation on account of my focus on the art of the Veneto. It is thanks to all of these factors that my completed thesis was awarded the Wolfgang Ratjen Award by the CONIVNCTA FLORESCIT Friends of the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich. The purpose of this award is to recognise the work of early career scholars in the field of the graphic arts, and to bring this research to the attention of the wider scholarly community.
What did you enjoy most about studying at the Institute?
One thing that I particularly enjoyed, and that I am sure many will identify with, was the fact that the Institute’s unrivalled library meant that it also functioned as a meeting place for so many of my friends and colleagues from both London and across the world. This consequently led to many productive conversations and general brightening of days when research was particularly challenging.
Another major perk for me was the Institute’s proximity to the British Museum as I would often make the five-minute walk to drop in to the Department of Prints and Drawings to study a print or drawing I was thinking about!
Did your experience at the Warburg help to equip you for your career?
It absolutely did, and in a variety of ways such as encouraging eclectic research approaches and developing skills in independent study, but in my opinion, public speaking was the standout. The weekly Work in Progress seminars were an invaluable forum to hear and discuss other scholars’ research, in addition to presenting and discussing my own. The breadth of topics that scholars of the Warburg study meant that many were not specialist in my exact topic, which was invaluable for making me think about the way I present my research, consider my work from different perspectives and talk about my findings with a wider audience. This has been key to fostering my confidence and capabilities in what I consider to be the fundamental curatorial duty that is public engagement.
What would you say to someone considering doing a PhD at the Warburg?
When considering a topic, don’t be too constrained by your initial ideas – the finished product will look nothing like you expect it to, and it may change as you do more research. Plus, never forget that discussing your work with other scholars, and in particular your supervisors, throughout the process is invaluable.
Would you recommend the Warburg Institute as a place of study and why?
Its basis in central London, and proximity to major museums, is absolutely amazing. The library is unrivalled, especially for Renaissance art history: whatever book I needed was always on the shelf. The community is intellectually stimulating, with plenty of social opportunities such as seminars and tea-time talks, to bring people together and to encourage scholarly discussion.
What advice would you give to graduating students?
Take a break once you submit! The PhD programme is intellectually intense and it is necessary to take the time to recuperate and really work out what career path you want to pursue. Don’t just take the first opportunity that comes along…
Any future plans?
I will be based at the British Museum for a further 12 months, with an interruption of 3 months when I complete research at the Zentralinstitut in Munich as a condition of having won the Wolfgang Ratjen Award. During my time at the Zentralinstitut, I will be focussing on the drawings of Lorenzo Lotto but will also have the opportunity to participate in the Zentralinstitut’s academic programme and to engage with the scholarly environment there. This fellowship will also hopefully enable me to complete a couple of articles, before returning to the British Museum to focus on curatorial activities.
After that, who knows? The Covid situation of the past year has strongly affected the career opportunities within museums, and I know that curatorial jobs are therefore increasingly competitive. In the interim, however, I have plenty of research topics that I know that I should complete, and there are maybe one or two more international fellowships that I would love to hold before I ‘settle down’.
Genevieve Verdigel is currently the Getty Paper Project Fellow at the British Museum. She specialises in Italian Renaissance Drawings and Prints, with a particular emphasis on the Veneto. Her LAHP funded PhD was completed at the Warburg Institute in February 2020, and was awarded the 2021 Wolfgang Ratjen Prize for outstanding early career research in the graphic arts. She has held the Kress Pre-Doctoral Fellowship at The Morgan Library and Museum and the Bromberg Fellowship at the British Museum, and holds a MA and BA from the Courtauld Institute.