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My main research interests concern every aspect of the artistic process: from idea to artwork, the materials chosen and their meaning, tools and processes used, the original intent of the artist, all set against an art historical/cultural/theoretical context. My research focuses on:
- Technical art history, and especially historical painting techniques, materials and studio practice of a variety of artists and periods. Technical art history is a new multidisciplinary research area linking together art historical research and scientific analysis. Its emphasis is on the application of new and established scientific techniques to art object-based research, drawing together the disciplines of art history, conservation and the physical sciences to create an interdisciplinary analytical framework in which we can gain insights into artists’ methods and intentions, attribution issues, changes of appearance, and preservation.
- Testimonies on artistic practice. Research of historic sources: written such as treatises, manuals, recipes, correspondence, ledgers; and visual such as studio interiors images of the artist at work, tools and materials, photographs, film artists’ interviews; material such as historic tools or pigment collections, but also results from material analyses of artifacts.
- Dutch and Flemish painting of the 16th and 17th century, focusing on the making, meaning and market.
- Authenticity. The interpretation of authenticity in the context of the material aspects of the artist’s original intent, including modern and contemporary artists' practice.
- History of Conservation and conservation ethics and especially the role of authenticity in conservation decision-making processes both in the past and present, and in conservation ethics.
Erma is the Lord Kelvin-Adam Smith Lecturer in Technical Art History and leads the Technical Art History strand of the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History. She is the Convenor of the MLitt programme Making and Meaning: Approaches in Technical Art History. Trained as a paintings conservator and with a PhD in the history of art from Leiden University, she has organised several international symposia in this interdisciplinary field. She is chief editor of the new on-line edition of ArtMatters: International Journal for Technical Art History, funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and to be launched this autumn.
I welcome enquiries about PhD projects in any of the above mentioned areas of interest.
Rebecca Gordon, AHRC PhD candidate ‘Replace, reinstall, restore: a reconsideration of material authenticity in Contemporary Art in Scotland’
This PhD project focuses on material authenticity. ‘Authenticity’ is one of the most influential factors that determine a course of action for a work of art in need of conservation. And yet it is also one of the most contested. At a time when contemporary artists are pushing material authenticity to the extreme, with the traditional notion of the authentic hand of the artist and the resultant authentic experience being overtly flouted, how can the authentic artwork be identified and defined? Degradation and ephemera are often key features in Contemporary Art, and the acts of ‘replacement’ and ‘re-installation’ are frequently essential parts of the artist’s original intent, thrusting the relation between concept and matter into flux. Is the material identity of the artwork still pertinent? Do we need to redefine our notion of authenticity; what implications would that have for the preservation and display of contemporary art?
Christa Gattringer, Lord Kelvin Adam Smith PhD candidate ‘17th Century Antwerp Studio Practice: an Interdisciplinary Approach’
This PhD Project entails a thorough art historical and technical analysis of a selection of works from the Glasgow Museums, National Galleries of Scotland, and Hunterian Art Gallery, which represent specific aspects of Antwerp 17th-Century studio practice. The research addresses the characteristics of Antwerp painting practice, including preliminary stages such as drawings and oil sketches, by combining art historical and technical research data. Art historical research, and research into contemporary art technological sources will be combined with scientific analyses - lead isotope and elemental analyses of pigments, identification of binding media - done in collaboration with co-supervisors Prof Tony Fallick and Prof Rob Ellam, Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, and investigation of underdrawings (infrared reflectography), x-radiography and microscopic examination of the paint surface.
- Chief editor, on-line edition of ArtMatters: International Journal for Technical Art History
- Erma Hermens & Ailsa Boyd, Study and Serendipity: Testimonies on Artists’ Practice, 3rd ATSR conference, ICOM-CC, 9-10 June 2008, University of Glasgow
- Erma Hermens & Tina Fiske, Symposium Art, Conservation and Authenticities: Material, Context and Concept, 12-14 September 2007, University of Glasgow/ICON Scotland
Selected Lectures and Session Chairs
‘James McNeill Whistler, conservation and experiments’, speaker (and session chair) Technical Art History Conference, Kadriorg Art Museum, Tallinn, Estonia, 8-9 June, 2011.
Lecture ‘Looking through Vermeer: Reflections on his Painting Techniques’, National Gallery Edinburgh, January 2011 (with exhibition The Young Vermeer)
Sally Rush and Erma Hermens, ‘Portraits of James V of Scotland – adaptation and emulation’, Symposium Tudor and Jacobean Painting: Production, Influences and Patronage, 2-4 December 2010, National Portrait Gallery, London
Session chair, The Technical Examination of Old Master Drawings: a symposium in conservation science, British Museum, 20th May 2010
‘James McNeill Whistler and his studio practice’, National Gallery of Denmark Copenhagen lecture series
‘James McNeill Whistler, fluidity, finish and experiment’, National Gallery London Conference, The National Gallery Technical Bulletin 30th Anniversary Conference 16th – 18th September 2009.
Session convenor ‘Many Hands Make Light Work: the Division, Status and Valuation of Artistic Labour in 16th- and 17th-century Northern European Art’, AAH Annual Conference 2010, 15 - 17 April, University of Glasgow
Key note at Lord Kelvin Adam Smith seminar on interdisciplinary research, University of Glasgow, April 2009
Lecture: ‘Landscapes of Paul Bril: reality or fantasy’, National Gallery, Edinburgh, October 2008
‘En plein soleil: Whistler, Nature and Memory ‘, at ‘Study and Serendipity: Testimonies on Artists’ Practice’, 3rd international Symposium of the Art Technological Source Research Working Group, ICOM-CC, 9-10 June, 2008
‘The Pesaro Court Workshops: Organisation, Collaboration and Production’, 34th annual AAH conference, 2-4 April 2008, Tate Britain
‘The Mariani-Cibo treatise: contents and context’, International Institute of Conservation symposium, Munich, September 2006
Lecture ‘Rembrandt in the studio’, National Gallery, Edinburgh, June 16 2006
Lecture ‘James McNeill Whistler’s oil paintings: texture or conjecture’. March 24, 2006, Conference ‘Authenticity and Conservation’, Glasgow University
Lecture ‘Dutch 17th century landscape painting: making and meaning’, National Gallery, Edinburgh, October 2005
Lecture on Rembrandt’s self portrait , National Gallery, Edinburgh, June 2005