Who’s Who: Leah Clark

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in/have been involved in?

I’m Leah Clark, a Senior Lecturer in Art History at the Open University. When I started at the OU, I was chair of A226 and I also began writing MA materials for the MA in Art History. I then took over chairing the new MA in Art History. I was also block editor and contributing author for A344 and co-edited (with Kathleen Christian) the associated textbook, European Art and the Wider World, 1350-1550.

I have also just finished writing a chapter on Renaissance portraiture for A112. I’ve also been involved in research administration as Impact Lead for Art History and I’ve recently taken up the role as Research Lead for Art History. I’m founder and project lead of Open Arts Objects, an online platform that provides over 50 open access films to support the teaching of Art History.

What are your main research areas?

I work on the collection and exchange of art objects in the Italian courts at the end of the fifteenth century. I’m particularly interested in the mobility of objects, and I love following their stories as they move from place to place. My current research looks at the global dimensions of Italian court collections, investigating the exchange of objects and materials across Italian, Mamluk, and Ottoman courts: raw goods, aromatics, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, and other luxury items. (My interests in aromatics also informed my work on the ‘traveling object‘ – a perfume burner- which supported the OU’s co-production with the BBC, Civilisations)

What Open Arts Objects films have you done? Are they related to your research or a module?

I’ve done a number of films! I was fortunate to have filmed the very first Open Arts Objects film, one on a plaquette of Apollo and Marsyas in the British Museum, which relates to a few articles and my book, as well as some of the work I did on A844 around reproduction and images. My films on Baldovinetti’s Portrait of Lady and Ercole de’ Roberti’s diptych, all relate to my research on art in the courts. The female portrait is also related to the chapter I wrote on Renaissance portraiture for A112. The Roberti diptych is the subject of my third chapter of my book, Collecting Art in the Italian Renaissance Court: Objects and Exchanges. I also did a film on Bellini’s Madonna of the Meadow which is used in A111, as part of the Religious Studies material. My film on Mantegna’s Adoration of the Magi, is related to my current research on the global exchange of objects, and the painting is also the book cover for A344’s Book 1.

I’ve also done four critical terms: one on Commemoration with Susie West, 2 with Kathleen Christian on Hybridity and on Mobility , and one on globalisation with Leon Wainwright. The latter three relate closely to my research on the circulation of objects across the globe in the Renaissance.

What did you love most about doing an Open Arts Objects film?

I love being able to convey my research to a wider audience. The research that we do as academics is very narrow and focussed and it’s wonderful to be able to open it up and make it more accessible. As Project Lead, I’ve also been fortunate enough to take part in ‘behind the scenes’ filming in museums. I love seeing objects being taken out of storage boxes and shown to the public on these films!

What is your most significant publication or latest publication? How does it relate to the films?

My most significant publication is my book published with Cambridge University Press in 2018, Collecting Art in the Italian Renaissance Court: Objects and Exchanges. Rather than focusing on patronage strategies or the political power of individual collectors, I use the objects themselves to elucidate the dynamic relationships formed through their exchange (you can watch a short video on it here). This book informs many of the films I’ve done, in particular the plaquette and the Roberti diptych.

My current work on the global exchange of Renaissance objects is probably best represented in a recent article in the Journal of the History of Collections on a previously unknown collection of Chinese porcelain. One of these items just might be depicted in Mantegna’s Adoration of the Magi, which I explain in the film:

What got you interested in Art History?

My interest in Art History originally came about in a rather unconventional way: my parents ran a sail training organisation and I grew up sailing around the world, which required me to do some of my schooling through distance learning. I was introduced to a broad range of ‘art’ in different countries and I was fascinated how different cultures expressed themselves differently through art and visual culture. Working at the OU combines my interests in Art History and my own hands-on experience as a distance learner.

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.

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