Postgraduate Dissertation Prize Winner

We are delighted to announce that Samantha Scott (University of York) is the winner of the Association for Art History’s 2018 postgraduate Dissertation Prize for her essay, ‘A Luminous Translation’: Lithophanes at Woburn Abbey, 1836 to 1838’.  The prize will be awarded to Samantha at the Association’s 2019 Annual Conference in Brighton.

You can read an abstract of her dissertation below.

Shortlisted runners up

Congratulations also to our two shortlisted runners up:

‘Adrian Paci’s The Column – The Political Aesthetic’ by Sarah Messerschmidt (University of Glasgow)

‘Architect of Form”: Spiritual Space in František Kupka’s Creation in the Plastic Arts’ by Meredith Williams (University of Oxford)

Winner’s Abstract

Under John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford, Woburn Abbey’s internationally significant collection of artwork and sculptural objects was enlarged and flourished. A crucial part of this collection, however, has gone unnoticed: the creation of a unique display of 175 lithophanes between 1836 and 1838. First invented in 1827, lithophanes are typically small porcelain plaques with a moulded surface. Once backlit, the irregular surface allows for the revelation of an image, with the thickest areas of porcelain letting through the least light and thereby providing the darkest tones in an apparently two-dimensional grayscale image.
Although popular throughout the nineteenth century, the illusory ‘novelty’ effect of lithophanes has ensured that they have been neglected in a British art historical scholarship. Additionally, their contemporary recognition as foreign objects (with emphasis on the skill of German manufacturers) has led to the disregard for lithophanes as a by-product of the general inattention to Anglo-German links in this period. This dissertation returns lithophanes to centre stage as key objects engaging with then-central contemporary art and design debates regarding interdisciplinarity, design reform and Anglo-German relationships. In particular, the dissertation argues that lithophanes represent a conceptual exploration into the inter-relationship and medium specificity of paintings, prints, relief sculpture and stained glass, and into notions of reproduction more akin to translation than an exacting copy. Examining this experimentation across media and technologies allows this study to explore the construction of a popular canon of art history.
Combining primary archival and object-based research with a more novel statistical and infographic analysis of the Woburn Abbey collection of lithophanes, the project is ground-breaking in drawing attention to this unique cultural category of objects. In focusing on this unusual and monumental example of 175 mounted lithophanes, I reassess the potential art historical value of ‘novelty’ items, commonly perceived as commercialised and inconsequential.

The Dissertation Prize is assessed by our Doctoral and Early Career Research (DECR) committee. Many thanks to those on the committee who read and shortlisted this year’s submissions, particularly Naomi Stewart. The quality and originality of research in this year’s postgraduate essays was, by all accounts, extremely high.

Image: Woburn Abbey lithophanes.