The Stirling Maxwell Research Project

The Stirling Maxwell Research Project

The Stirling Maxwell Research Project is devoted to studying the contribution of Sir William Stirling Maxwell (1818-78) to scholarship and collecting, and to raising awareness of his significance in these fields. Stirling’s Annals of the Artists of Spain (1848) was the first scholarly history of Spanish art in English and the first book on art to be illustrated with photographs. His collection of Spanish paintings was the largest and most comprehensive collection of this school ever put together in Britain, whilst his outstanding library included books and treatises on Spanish art, as well as a vast number of emblem books and festivals books. Much of his important collection of paintings remains at Pollok House, Glasgow, which now belongs to Glasgow Museums and is administered in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland. Many of the books from his library are now in Special Collections at the University of Glasgow, and his archives are housed in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Stirling Maxwell also had strong interests in Higher Education and was elected Chancellor of Glasgow University in 1875. Our Project aims to research several different but interrelated strands of his interests and achievements through the development of international and interdisciplinary collaborations. In this way, we can begin to realise the enormous potential of the unique resources offered by the Stirling Maxwell collections within the University and the city of Glasgow, and make them more widely known through tangible outputs. 

As an international collaboration, the Stirling Maxwell Research Project owes its initial impetus to the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica (CEEH), Madrid, and its Director, José Luis Colomer, who with the late Professor Nigel Glendinning, offered both vision and practical assistance in setting it up. Core funding for the Project has generously been provided by Santander Universities. 

Stirling Maxwell photo

Unwrapping an Icon: Lady in a Fur Wrap & Related Portraits

Stirling Maxwell

This collaborative research project is centred around the famous Lady in a Fur Wrap, attributed to El Greco (1541–1614), and related portraits in the Stirling Maxwell Collection. The new research is led by the University of Glasgow in partnership with Glasgow Museums, who own these works, which formed part of Sir William Stirling Maxwell’s important collection of Spanish paintings. Other key partners include the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, who are carrying out parallel research on comparative works in their collection, and the National Trust for Scotland, who care for Pollok House where the Lady in a Fur Wrap and the other portraits in the project are normally displayed. We are most grateful to Santander Universities and the Royal Society of Edinburgh for funding for this project.

The Lady in a Fur Wrap has fascinated viewers ever since it was exhibited in the Louvre, Paris, in 1838. Regarded as an early masterpiece painted soon after El Greco settled in Spain in the 1570s, its fame became linked to the rapid rise in the painter’s international reputation in the nineteenth century. Yet it remains an enigma. Direct, informal portraits of Early Modern women such as this are extremely rare and probably unique in a Spanish context. This has led some modern scholars to propose a number of new possibilities regarding who painted it, when, and who it represents.

The aims of this project are to examine new and existing evidence relating to the Lady in a Fur Wrap and to provide a forum in which specialists across several academic disciplines as well as museum professionals can assess and debate the arguments around this masterpiece. The project will explore questions of artistic technique, attribution and identity, using scientific analysis as well as research on the history of dress, society and collecting, in an attempt to unpack the complex history and significance of this unique painting and provide a fuller understanding of who painted it, who it might represent and when it was created. This will only be possible through comparison with other relevant works, hence the project will also involve equivalent scientific investigation and additional research on five other sixteenth-century Spanish portraits in the Stirling Maxwell Collection, and will likewise draw on the results of similar research on paintings held by international institutions such as the Prado Museum. Through this collaborative and comparative approach, our understanding of the context of portraiture and artistic practice in this period in Spain generally will also be greatly enhanced. The fascinating history of reception of the Lady in a Fur Wrap and its impact on modern art and even film will also be explored.

Research outputs will include a three-day symposium announcing the findings of the project, and an edited book.  The research on the Lady in a Fur Wrap and related portraits will also feed into the wider Stirling Maxwell Spanish Paintings Project (see below).

An English translation of a published conference paper by Hilary Macartney outlining research and reception of the Lady in a Fur Wrap up to 2014 is available here:Hilary Macartney Stirling Maxwell 2014


Comparative Works

Five other important sixteenth-century Spanish portraits in the Stirling Maxwell Collection have been selected for comparative study with the Lady in a Fur Wrap. These are by El Greco and other contemporary artists working during this ‘Golden Age’ of Spanish painting.

Stirling Maxwell

Compared with the remarkable informality of the Lady in a Fur Wrap, the magnificent portrait of Philip II is one of the finest examples of an image of political power by the king’s favourite portrait painter.

Stirling Maxwell

The portrait of Philip’s fourth Queen is more typical of the few representations of women in this period in its formality and the rich, high-necked dress and ruff.

Stirling Maxwell

The portrait of the Philip II’s half-brother, Don John of Austria, attributed to Jorge de la Rúa, also shows the formality of the dominant court style.

Stirling Maxwell

El Greco’s Portrait of a Gentleman is an example of the later style of the artist and is likely to represent a high-ranking member of society in Toledo around the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Stirling Maxwell

The miniature Portrait of a Knight in Armour is one of many playing-card sized portraits in this period and is attributable to the Circle of El Greco.


Scientific Analysis

Scientific investigation of five related portraits in the Stirling Maxwell Collection is currently under way. The results will be compared with those for the Lady in a Fur Wrap, which underwent specialised technical examination using the world-class facilities and expertise at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid in 2014, as well as with those for other paintings in the Prado and elsewhere. Though there is no guarantee of definitive results, detailed comparative assessment and discussion results will certainly help us to learn more about artists’ materials and techniques in 16th-century Spain.

The technical examination led by the University of Glasgow is a collaboration involving several partners and international specialists. It includes examination of the paintings’ surface, as well as analysis of microscopic paint samples in the research laboratory of the Technical Art History Group at the University of Glasgow, using optical microscopy and fluorescent staining. X-radiography of the paintings has been carried out at the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. With no dedicated facilities for X-raying paintings throughout Scotland, this partnership provides a welcome opportunity for the team to analyse aspects of artworks not visible to the naked eye. The X-ray process should provide information about the artist’s materials and techniques, as well as revealing more about an artist’s particular style. Historic Environment Scotland are contributing to the research by providing specialist staff and equipment: Infrared Reflectography (IRR), which may help detect preliminary sketches or underdrawings by artists; and X-ray fluorescence (XRF), which can help to analyse the chemical elements present in the materials used to create the paintings. Additional advanced analytical techniques are being performed by other external partners. The Doerner Institut, Munich, is undertaking Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), a procedure that is ideal for providing detailed chemical information on the organic materials found in paint samples, especially the materials used to bind them. Fourier Transform Infrared imaging (FTIR) will be carried out at Bern University of Applied Sciences in their Art Technological Laboratory.


The Stirling Maxwell Spanish Paintings Project

Sánchez Coello_Philip II_Pollok

In this strand of the Project, the Spanish Paintings Project is studying the collection of around 130 Spanish paintings formed by Sir William Stirling Maxwell, which was the largest and most comprehensive collection of this school ever put together in Britain. Much of his collection is now dispersed, but fortunately a substantial core remains at Pollok House in Glasgow and is owned and administered by Glasgow Museums with the assistance of the National Trust for Scotland. Of the dispersed portion, some of the most important works are now in public and private collections worldwide, including the National Gallery, London; the Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, Dallas; Fundación Focus-Abengoa, Seville; and the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. The paintings mainly date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and were collected at a time when the art of Spain was still an unusual taste for British collectors. Uniquely, the collection also reflects Stirling’s scholarly interests in Spanish art, both as author of the Annals of the Artists of Spain (1848), and as collector of an outstanding library of books and treatises on Spanish art. Likewise, the paintings demonstrate Stirling’s fascination for artistic training and practice in Golden Age Spain, a field which chimes with many of the interests and approaches of researchers today.
The Stirling Maxwell Spanish Paintings Project seeks to research and contextualise these key distinguishing aspects of the collection, including the provenance of the paintings, their attributions and subjects, the significance of the works for Stirling Maxwell as scholar and collector, and how they have contributed to reception of Spanish art in this country. Scientific examination and analysis of key works in the Pollok House collection is planned as a significant aspect of the research, and will draw on the expertise of specialists in Technical Art History at the University of Glasgow. To date, a catalogue raisonné of this outstanding collection of Spanish paintings has never been produced and will be the principal output of this strand of the Project. In this way, the catalogue will reunite the collection and will enable its extent and significance to be widely recognised for the first time.

The Stirling Maxwell Spanish Paintings Project is a collaboration between the University of Glasgow, Glasgow Museums and the National Trust for Scotland, with the support of the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. We are most grateful to Santander Universities for core funding for this Project.


The First Photographically Illustrated Book on Art

The Talbotype Illustrations to Stirling’s Annals of the Artists of Spain

AT13

In the first strand of the Project, the volume of Talbotype Illustrations to the Annals of the Artists of Spain was studied, including its significance and context. Only fifty copies of this remarkable experimental volume of early photographic illustrations were produced in 1847-8 to accompany the three text volumes of William Stirling’s Annals of the Artists of Spain, for presentation by the author to friends and family, scholars and libraries. These were the first photographic images representing Spanish art, architecture and design, and were taken by Nicholaas Henneman, assistant to the inventor of the process William Henry Fox Talbot, in London and Reading. Some photographs were also commissioned from the Edinburgh partnership of D. O. Hill and Robert Adamson but were not used in the final volume. Only small, portable artworks could be photographed, and original oil paintings had to be reproduced via prints or painted copies. The chemical process, involving light-sensitive silver compounds, was also unstable, and the photographs suffered severe fading soon after they were mounted in the books. Nevertheless, as the first photographically illustrated book on art, it represented a landmark in the recent invention of photography and the emerging discipline of art history, and pointed the way towards the use of photography as an essential tool in the study of art, and to much wider accessibility of art through illustrated books.

The Annals Talbotypes Project was an international collaboration between the University of Glasgow, the National Media Museum (NMeM), Bradford and, in Spain, the Museo Nacional del Prado (Prado) and the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica (CEEH), Madrid. Led by Hilary Macartney (University of Glasgow) and José Manuel Matilla (Museo Nacional del Prado), it enabled invaluable knowledge exchange between art historians, photographic historians, museum curators, librarians, conservators, conservation scientists and digital imaging specialists. Our team also included Professor Larry J Schaaf (University of Oxford), international authority on early photography and the technique invented by William Henry Fox Talbot, and Dr Jim Tate (National Museums of Scotland), who undertook the first ever scientific analysis of the Annals Talbotypes.
We are most grateful to Santander Universities for core funding for this Project, and to Santander
Shareholders, the Kress Foundation, Royal Society of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow Chancellor’s Fund and the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin for additional funding for this strand.  


Exhibition

Exhibition

Copied by the Sun/ Copiado por el sol: Talbotype Illustrations to the Annals of the Artists of Spain, Museo Nacional del Prado, 18 May – 4 September 2016. Curated by Hilary Macartney (University of Glasgow) and José Manuel Matilla (Museo Nacional del Prado). 

Copied by the Sun exh crop

The exhibition offered a unique opportunity to see how the historic volume of Talbotype Illustrations to the Annals of the Artists of Spain was created. For the first time since they were photographed in 1847, many of the working proofs from Henneman’s studio were brought together with some of the artworks they represent, as well as several of the surviving copies of the volume. It also explained the photographic process involved, showed some of the precedents to the Annals Talbotypes, and presented examples of the often complex relationship between original, intermediary copy and photograph. Nearly a quarter of the illustrations in the book are of paintings in the Prado Museum, which also owns an example of the volume itself.


Publication

Copied by the Sun: Talbotype Illustrations to the Annals of the Artists of Spain by Sir William Stirling Maxwell, Facsimile and Critical Edition. Edited by Hilary Macartney (University of Glasgow) and José Manuel Matilla (Museo Nacional del Prado). 2 vols, Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado/ Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica, 2016.

We have produced an “ideal facsimile” of Stirling Maxwell’s landmark volume of Talbotype Illustrations to the Annals of the Artists of Spain, based on the best examples of each illustration. It uses modern technology and production methods to evoke the appearance of the original edition. The digital reconstruction of the photographs by Henneman was carried out by the Photographic Archive at the Prado Museum, using high-resolution images specially commissioned for our Project. Click here for PowerPoint of Annals Talbotype restoration 31.

In the accompanying interpretive volume, Stirling and Henneman’s remarkable achievement is contextualised. The essays chart the challenges of taking the photographs and producing the volume at that early date, and discuss the relationship to the text of the Annals, and to Stirling’s scholarship, his collecting and his other interests. Also included are a full catalogue raisonné of the Talbotype illustrations, a census of the copies in the bound edition, and an outline of the results of the scientific analysis.

Other publications include a number of articles and papers and can be found on Hilary Macartney profile page.


Related Outcomes

The National Library of Scotland’s copy of the volume, which was studied in detail and scientifically analysed for the Project, was subsequently conserved. A short film on its conservation can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/Y7zIRaE8brE