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Dr Leah R Clark

Profile summary

Professional biography

BA Honours Art History (University of British Columbia, Vancouver), MA Art History (Courtauld, London), PhD (McGill University, Montreal)

Leah R. Clark’s research explores the roles objects play in creating networks in the fifteenth century through their exchange, collection, and replication. She joined the OU in 2013, having taught a wide range of courses in Canada and America including Art History courses on the Italian Renaissance, collecting, art in the Italian courts, and cross-cultural encounters in the early modern world, in addition to cross-disciplinary courses in the Humanities. She is currently Research Lead and Impact Lead for Art History for REF 2021.


Research interests

Dr Clark's Collecting Art in the Italian Renaissance Court: Objects and Exchanges (Cambridge University Press) examines the courts of Italy (particularly Ferrara and Naples) through the myriad of objects—statues, paintings, jewellery, furniture, and heraldry—that were valued for their particular iconographies, material forms, histories, and social functions. The constant circulation of precious objects in the late fifteenth century reveals a system of value which placed importance not only on ownership, but also on the replication, copying, and translation of those objects in an array of media. The objects of analysis are thus considered not only as components of court life, but also as agents that activated the symbolic practices that became integral to relations within and between courts, operating as points of contact between individuals, giving rise to new associations and new interests.

Her next book project, investigates how objects and materials functioned as diplomatic agents in cross-cultural relations. It explores the transformative processes of their translation and transfer, which allowed for materials and motifs to become incorporated into local visual culture and production in fifteenth-century Italy.  She has received a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant for research connected to this project (‘The Peregrinations of Porcelain: Touch, Transfer, and Translation in Cross Cultural Exchange (1450-1500)’). 

As part of this interest in cross-cultural encounters, she co-edited (with Nancy Um) a special issue of the Journal of Early Modern History, 'The Art of Embassy: Objects and Images of Early Modern Diplomacy' 20 (1), 2016. She is also co-investigator (with Dr Katherine Wilson, Chester) of an interdisciplinary research network examining the mobility of objects across and beyond European boundaries during the period (1000-1700) funded by the AHRC. For more on the network see their website.

She is the recipient of various awards and fellowships from the British Academy, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Italian government, and the AHRC.

At the OU, she is co-chair with Helen Coffey of the Medieval and Early Modern Research Group, which hosts an annual international conference (Spaces & Places) and a regular seminar series on Sensory Experiences.

Teaching interests

Dr Clark has contributed module materials to A344, A843, and A844. She was chair of the MA in Art History from 2014-2018. She is currently working on the new first level module A112.

Students interested in topics concerning early modern Italy, and in particular those related to collecting, court culture, cross-cultural relations and exchange theory should contact Leah Clark by email.

Impact and engagement

Dr Clark is project lead on Open Arts Objects, an innovative project that provides free open access films and teaching support materials geared to the new A-level in Art History. She appears in over 10 films on topics ranging from Chinese porcelain collections in Renaissance Italy to 'critical terms for Art History' on hybridity and globalisation. Open Arts Objects was shortlisted for a Times Higher Education Awards 2019 in the category of Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year for 2019. Dr Clark was also runner up for the Open University’s Research Excellence Awards: Outstanding Impact of Research on Society and Prosperity in 2019. Watch this short film to hear what students have to say about the films!

In June 2019, her research was chosen to be showcased in one of 15 interactive exhibits at the British Academy Summer showcase festival for curious minds, 'What can Italian Renaissance art tell us about global trade?​', which led to an interview on BBC 3 counties radio and an article for the Conversation.

External collaborations

Dr Clark is co-investigator (with Dr Katherine Wilson, Chester) of 'Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries 1000-1700 (MOB)', a collaborative, interdisciplinary project, funded by an AHRC network grant, which reconsiders the history of material culture in the period AD 1000-1700. For more information see the project's website.

Externally funded projects

Mobility of Objects across Boundaries
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 May 201830 Apr 2020AHRC Arts & Humanities Research Council

A collaborative, interdisciplinary network bringing together historians, art historians, archaeologists, literary scholars and digital humanists, which reconsiders the history of material culture in the period AD1000-1700

The Peregrinations of Porcelain: Touch, Transfer, and Translation in Cross Cultural Exchange (1450-1500)
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Apr 201630 Apr 2017BRITAC British Academy

This BA grant supports research into the mobility of Chinese porcelain in 15th-century Italy through three key themes—touch, transfer, and translation. The Medici of Florence have long been recognised as having the largest collection of Chinese porcelain, but this project will show that Eleonora d’Aragona, Duchess of Ferrara had the largest in Italy at this time. Eleonora’s collection is significant not only for its sheer volume, but also for the effects it had on artistic production in and around Ferrara. Taking porcelain as a starting point, this study explores the transformative process of cross-cultural exchanges—how objects, materials, and motifs were translated across media and became incorporated into local visual culture and production. The grant will result in a number of outputs: an article examining Eleonora’s collection; an article on the role of porcelain in diplomacy and cultural exchange; a panel at the European Social Science History Conference (2016); a conference paper at the Renaissance Society of America (2017). It will also be the basis for a future conference, exhibition, edited volume and book, as part of a collaborative project between Leah Clark and Katherine Wilson (Chester).


The peregrinations of porcelain: The collections of Duchess Eleonora d’Aragona of Ferrara (2020-07)
Clark, Leah R.
Journal of the History of Collections, 32(2) (pp. 275-288)

Objects of Exchange: Diplomatic Entanglements in Fifteenth-century Naples (2018)
Clark, Leah R.
Predella, 43-44 (pp. 129-154)

Introduction: The Art of Embassy: Situating Objects and Images in the Early Modern Diplomatic Encounter (2016-04)
Clark, Leah and Um, Nancy
Journal of Early Modern History, 20 (pp. 1-16)

Collecting and replicating antiquities: casts, substitutions, and the culture of the copy in the Quattrocento (2016-03-01)
Clark, Leah R.
Journal of the History of Collections, 28(1) (pp. 1-13)

Collecting, exchange, and sociability in the Renaissance studiolo (2013-07)
Clark, Leah R.
Journal of the History of Collections, 25(2) (pp. 171-184)

Transient possessions: circulation, replication, and transmission of gems and jewels in Quattrocento Italy (2011)
Clark, Leah R.
Journal of Early Modern History, 15(3) (pp. 185-221)

Collecting Art in the Italian Renaissance Court: Objects and Exchanges (2018-06-28)
Clark, Leah
ISBN : 9781108427722 | Publisher : Cambridge University Press | Published : Cambridge

Exhibition and Display (2021-09-23)
Clark, Leah R. and Campbell, Caroline
In: Campbell, Erin J. and Miller, Stephanie eds. A Cultural History of Furniture in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. A Cultural History of Furniture, vol. 2 ((In Press))
ISBN : 9781472577894 | Publisher : Bloomsbury | Published : London

Merchant-banker, Diplomat, Courtier or Agent? Intermediaries and Collecting Art in the Renaissance Courts (2021)
Clark, Leah
In: Reist, Inge ed. When Michelangelo Was Modern: The Art Market and Collecting in Italy, 1450-1650
Publisher : Brill (In Press) | Published : Leiden

Representing the World: Collecting and Display in the Renaissance and Today (2019-12-20)
Clark, Leah R.
In: Galdy, Andrea ed. Collecting and Museology
ISBN : 1-5275-4228-9 | Publisher : Cambridge Scholars Publishing | Published : Cambridge

The Politics of Acquisition: Venetian Objects in Italian Courtly Collections, ca. 1475-1525 (2019)
Clark, Leah R.
In: Cordez, Philippe and Schnitz-Esser, Romedio eds. Typical Venice? Venetian Commodities, 13th-16th Centuries
Publisher : Brepols | Published : Turnhout

Artefacts (2019)
Clark, Leah R.
In: Buono, Amy and Dupré, Sven eds. A Cultural History of Color in the Renaissance. A Cultural History of Color, vol. 3
Publisher : Bloomsbury | Published : London

From Naples to Ferrara. The Collections of Duchess Eleonora d’Aragona (2018)
Clark, Leah R.
In: Ippoliti, Alessandro ed. Atti del convegno internazionale: Biagio Rossetti e il suo tempo (pp. 255-265 (In Press))
Publisher : Ginevra Bentivoglio Editoria | Published : Rome

Dispersal, Exchange and the Culture of Things in Fifteenth-century Italy (2017-09)
Clark, Leah R
In: Jurkowlaniec, Grażyna; Matyjaszkiewicz, Ika and Sarnecka, Zuzanna eds. The Agency of Things in Medieval and Early Modern Art: Materials, Power and Manipulation (pp. 91-102)
Publisher : Routledge | Published : London

Replication, quotation, and the ‘original’ in Quattrocento collecting practices (2013)
Clark, Leah
In: Großmann, G. Ulrich and Krutisch, Petra eds. The Challenge of the Object / Die Herausforderung des Objekts, Congress Proceedings (CIHA). Wissenschaftliche Beibände zum Anzeiger der Germanischen Nationalmuseums (32) (pp. 136-140)
ISBN : 978-3-936688-64-1 | Publisher : Germanisches Nationalmuseum Press | Published : Nuremberg