Über Rebecca Darley

I am a Research Associate with the project '"Bilderfahrzeuge" - Aby Warburg's Legacy and the Future of Iconology', based at the Warburg Institute (London). My research focuses on long-distance networks of contact in the pre-modern world, and in particular the movement of coins of the Byzantine Empire beyond imperial frontiers.

The Lost Box

Research in Translation

In a previous post I talked about a series of workshops, called ‘Research in Translation’, which I had the opportunity to participate in, which examined the translation of research into exhibition. The meetings held for the event were extremely productive and thought-provoking, bringing together early career researchers from across the humanities and sciences. We had chance to visit museum installations and store-rooms and talk to curators and exhibition designers. The end result, a series of mini-exhibitions, one by each participant, is now on display in Leicester from June 2015 util February 2016 (some images available here). This therefore seems like a good opportunity to present my part of it, reflect on the process and signpost what lies ahead for a larger project, which grew out of these workshops and my Bilderfahrzeuge work, especially as my time with the prjoject is now concluded.

The David Talbot-Rice Archive

Fragment of statue, Constantinople, c. 1927? David Talbot-Rice Archive, courtesy of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, made available digitally by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, image no. 19343776542.

Fragment of statue, Constantinople, c. 1927? David Talbot-Rice Archive, courtesy of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, made available digitally by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, image no. 19343776542.

The exhibition I intended to present went through various development stages, most of them trying to do too much and say too little. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to work on an archive which I had discovered while working at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham. This was the archive of the art historian and archeaologist David Talbot-Rice. Although most of his collected papers, art works and books were left to the University of Edinburgh where Talbot-Rice spent most of his career,in 1972 his widow, Tamara Talbot-Rice (also a prominent art historian) gave some of his notes and photographs to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, both at the University of Birmingham. These were materials most colsely connected to his work on Byzantine art, and especially to excavations he was involved with between 1927 and 1957 in the eastern Mediterranean. Many sites Talbot-Rice worked on have since been lost, buried or restored so heavily that they are unrecognizable. His photographs are a record of lost archaeological discoveries. In the background of many are also images of vehicles, people, buildings and street activities giving a glimpse into the changing face of the eastern Mediterranean at a time of intense change. His notes and letters record unpublished details of the excavations and evolving debates with other scholars of the region.

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Beyond Imperial Frontiers

Solidus of the emperor Marcian, found in India, 4.34g,  Madras Government Museum, Darley Catalogue No. 15.

Solidus of the emperor Marcian, found in India, 4.34g, Madras Government Museum, Darley Catalogue No. 15.

The main aim of my project as part of the Bilderfahrzeuge group has been to examine the use of Byzantine coins across a wide geographical area. The recognisability of Byzantine coinage and its extensive distribution in the late antique and medieval periods makes it an extraordinary medium for exploring how people across huge swathes of territory (with consequent cultural and economic differences) responded to an identical set of images and their materiality. While my own research focus has been on India and, more broadly, the use of Byzantine coins in jewellery, and their interaction with Sasanian Persian and Aksumite east African coins, a comparative perspective inviates collaboration with scholars working on other regions. With the help of the Bilderfahrzeuge group and the Universities’ China Committee in London (UCCL), July 2015 provided a golden opportunity to pursue such comparisons.

Leeds International Medieval Congress

The Leeds International Medieval Congress (IMC) held annually at the University of Leeds is one of the most significant gatherings in the calendar of European medieval studies. It has been my pleasure to attend and present three times, and to be part of a growing presence by researchers working on Byzantium, the Islamic world and China. The conference is a great place to meet a diverse range of researchers, raise awareness of research work and generate lasting discussions. It presented the ideal chance to open a network of discussions about Byzantine coins used in contexts beyond the empire, beginning with a panel of three speakers all addressing the issue of Byzantine coins far beyond imperial frontiers. The panel looked something like this:

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All that glitters…

What happens if you shoot X-Rays at coins? A question you have no doubt asked yourself often. Part of the answer was presented in the Spring of 2014 during a meeting of the Oriental Numismatic Society, held at the Ashmolean Museum.

Diagram of XRF analysis, courtesy of Bruker Industries Ltd. Click on the image for a more involved description of how XRF works!

Diagram of XRF analysis, courtesy of Bruker Industries Ltd. Click on the image for a more involved description of how XRF works!

One of the things that happens if you shoot X-Rays at a coin is that the energy from the X-Ray causes electrons in the atoms which make it up to be displaced from their orbital shells. As a result the electrons have to reshuffle to close up gaps left in the shells, and as they do this they emit energy of their own. It is a process with some interesting potential applications for Weiterlesen

Stable sources, vanishing resources

Prakrit inscription in Brahmi/Sinhala script, from Hangdala, probably 3rd or 2nd century BC. 'Hail! The cave of Manjuka Abhaya, son of Cuḍa-Haṇeya, the Superintendent of Trade, has been dedicated to the Saṅgha.'

Prakrit inscription in Brahmi/Sinhala script, from Hangdala, probably 3rd or 2nd century BC. ‘Hail! The cave of Manjuka Abhaya, son of Cuḍa-Haṇeya, the Superintendent of Trade, has been dedicated to the Saṅgha.’Short and unprepossessing as this rubbing of an inscription may appear, it poses vital questions about what a Superintendent of Trade might have done and how trade may have been organsied on the island, how this may have changed over time and who it benefited.

The Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka in recent years made available online thousands of inscriptions from this important Indian Ocean island. Inscriptions, some of many lines, others consisting only of a few words, can be found all over the island, in caves and at archaeological sites. They are frequently associated with monastic spaces, such as caves hollowed out and donated to monasteries for monks to live in. They might also, however, record decrees of the kings of ancient Lanka or donations of movable goods to monastic institutions. Weiterlesen

Exhibiting as research(?)

Poster for the 'First Emperor' exhibition, British Museum (2007-8)

Poster for the ‘First Emperor’ exhibition, British Museum (2007-8)

What seems like way back in 2007-8, the final year of my undergraduate studies, an exhibition opened that, for me and perhaps others, changed the way I thought about what museums might be for. At the time, the First Emperor exhibition in the wonderful round Reading Room space then being used at the British Museum for its special exhibitions felt like an intellectual journey in a way that I had not really experienced in exhibitions before. I came away having seen some amazing objects but also feeling like I knew more about something. I had been told a story, but it was a story with holes and ambiguities and debates still unresolved Weiterlesen

Coining metaphors, continuing a conversation

Medal of emperor John VIII Palaiologos by Pisanello (c. 1438-42), from the British Museum, Highlights.

Medal of emperor John VIII Palaiologos by Pisanello (c. 1438-42), from the British Museum, Highlights.

The opportunity to share perspectives and ideas with colleagues pursuing very different research topics is one of the privileges of working in the ‘Bilderfahrzeuge’ group, and this post continues one such conversation, begun in an earlier contribution by Hans-Christian. In it he talks about the idea of using metaphors derived from the language of minting coins in describing art history. It got me thinking about a category of image with which I have long been familiar: things which were produced as works of art/illustration and made in some way to look like coins. These objects were often also mass-produced and widely circulated, though in very different ways to coins, and had no fixed economic value. Why, then, have they been so popular and what authority do they gain from looking like coins? Weiterlesen

Andean adventures in ancient art

During the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries A.D. on a hill near the modern town of Guachipas in northwestern Argentina, people gathered on a hill in the centre of a large, flat basin between mountains. In the caves which pit the local sandstone they painted abstract shapes, human figures, representations of clothing and, above all, llamas.

Bright, poly-chrome shapes, possibly representing ponchos with their detailed woven patterns, decorate the ceiling of one of the largest caves at Guachipas.

Bright, poly-chrome shapes, possibly representing ponchos with their detailed woven patterns, decorate the ceiling of one of the largest caves at Guachipas.

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Conference report: ‘Curating Art History: dialogues between museum professionals and academics’

7th-8th May 2014, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham. Home to a fantastic fine art collection and Europe's most significant collection of Byzantine coins, as well as a gorgeous example of Art Deco interior design.

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham. Home to a fantastic fine art collection and Europe’s most significant collection of Byzantine coins, as well as a gorgeous example of Art Deco interior design.

Homepage of the Open Access, peer-reviewed Journal of Art Historiography (University of Birmingham)

Homepage of the Open Access, peer-reviewed Journal of Art Historiography (University of Birmingham)

Annual colloquium of the department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies and the Journal of Art Historiography

Organisers: Lauren Dudley, Jamie Edwards, Faith Trend and Erin Shakespeare.

This seems in many ways my ideal first contribution to reports and reviews for the ‘Bilderfahrzeuge’ blog. The conference took place a couple of weeks into the new project here but also took me back to the familiar haunts the University of Birmingham, where I did my MA and PhD studies. The conference was kindly hosted by the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, an art and numismatic collection which maintains close links with academic research and teaching. It was also where for a short period in 2013 I worked as curator of the numismatic exhibition, ‘Faith and Fortune: visualizing the divine on Byzantine and early Islamic coinage’, alongside my friend and colleague, Daniel Reynolds. The exhibition is open until January 2015 so if you are in the Midlands, take a look! Weiterlesen