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Collecting Renaissance Decorative Art in Britain 1850-1914

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Donnelly, Eloise 


This doctoral dissertation explores the interplay between private and public collections of Renaissance decorative art in Britain 1850-1914, to establish the role that emerging networks of collectors, curators and dealers played in shaping the demand for Renaissance art objects and establishing the scholarly canon. It seeks to provide an analysis of the evolution of a culture of collecting; questioning the extent to which institutional acquisitions and displays drove demand, and how shifts in taste amongst the wider collecting sphere shaped the collections now on display in public museums and galleries. As an AHRC funded collaborative doctorate between the University of Cambridge and the British Museum, much of the primary source material has been drawn from the uncatalogued archives of the British Museum, documents held in the V&A archives, and objects in public museums in Britain and abroad, in order to situate the development of the national collections within the wider collecting landscape.

The dissertation is divided into seven broadly chronological chapters, together exploring the emergence, consolidation and implications of this culture of collecting. The opening chapter considers the origins and development of the taste for Renaissance art objects, examining the state of the field in the years around 1850 before British museums moved into this area of collecting. The following two chapters then go on to discuss the strategies adopted by the British Museum and South Kensington Museum for collecting and curating Renaissance objects for the public. Chapters Four and Five examine the consolidation and dissemination of taste for these objects firstly through the prism of key exhibitions, and secondly through auction sale activity, drawing out key case studies and revealing collectors who are otherwise absent from the record. The final two chapters explore the interrelationship between private and public collecting through bequests and long-term loans, demonstrating the degree to which the acquisition and display of objects was being constantly reshaped by global networks of collectors, donors, dealers and curators. Cumulatively, these seven chapters seek to illuminate the breadth and depth of Renaissance art collecting in Britain between 1850 and 1914, adding a new perspective to the histories of museums, collecting and the art market.





Mandler, Peter


History of Collecting, Art Market, Museums, Curatorship, Decorative Art


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (1653542)
AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership