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Current projects

A History of the Fitzwilliam Museum

To mark the Fitzwilliam Museum’s bicentenary, the Museum commissioned research into its own history, hitherto no more than cursorily treated in the prefaces to general Museum books or catalogues. The research involved in-depth investigation and assimilation of the contents of the Museum’s own archive, besides documents preserved in the archives of the University and national and regional archives. 

The principal output of this project has been Lucilla Burn’s publication, The Fitzwilliam Museum: a History

Ancient Egyptian Coffins

Research into the Fitzwilliam Museum’s collection of Egyptian coffins began in 2004, as part ofthe project to examine and conserve objects during the refurbishment of the Egyptian coffins, completed in 2006. In the past, projects of this kind have focussed on either the iconography and textual content of the decoration, or the technology of the structure and decoration. In contrast, the Fitzilliam’s project is a fusion of approaches: working with experts in ancient painting and carpentry techniques, the museum’s conservation and curatorial staff study each coffin (or coffin fragment) individually, using analytical techniques, constructional analysis and wood identification, and textual and iconographic studies, as well as archival research. This synthetic approach results in a more complete history of each object, from its construction in Egypt to its arrival in Cambridge, which will be published in an online catalogue. 

Cambridge Illuminations Research Project

Begun in 2003, the principal aim of this project is to produce a multi-volume series of catalogues of some 4,000 illuminated Western manuscripts and incunabula at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Cambridge Colleges. Initially funded by a three-year grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project is now supported entirely by a private sponsor.  The team, led by Professor Nigel Morgan and Dr Stella Panayotova, currently includes Dr Lynda Dennison, Dr Deirdre Jackson, and Dr Suzanne Reynolds. 

Checklist of Coin Hoards from the British Isles, c.450-1180

The Checklist of Coin Hoards from the British Isles, c. 450-1180, maintains a comprehensive list of hoards from the Anglo-Saxon period, Norman and early Plantagenet periods.

Degas: A Passion for Perfection

In October 2017, the Fitzwilliam Museum will mark the centenary of Edgar Degas's death with an exhibition that will bring into focus its holdings of works by the artist. Consisting of paintings, drawings, pastels, etchings, monotypes, counterproofs and sculpture in bronze and wax, the Fitzwilliam's collection is the most extensive and representative in the UK. The wide range of media offers the opportunity to examine Degas’s relentless desire to experiment and reinvent, an aspect of his artistic practice that some attributed to chronic self-doubt; others to a ‘passion for perfection’.

Designers and Jewellery 1850-1940: Jewellery and Metalwork from the Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum contains stunning examples of jewellery and metalwork from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including important pieces by Arts & Crafts designers such as C.R. Ashbee, Henry Wilson, Gilbert Marks, William Burges and Phoebe Traquair, as well as unique pieces designed and commissioned by the artist Charles de Sousy Ricketts.  Further research is being carried out into this little-known part of the Museum’s collection, resulting in a full-colour publication detailing over 50 key pieces (2018).

Early Medieval Corpus Single Finds of Coins in the British Isles, 410-1180

A project to gather together into a single database all of the single finds of coins minted 410-1180 found in the British Isles.

Material Cultures in Public Engagement

A collaborative project involving a network of European museums and supported by the TOPOI Excellence Cluster, which looks at the range of strategies and ideas currently employed by European Museums with Ancient World collections to engage their public with aspects of ancient material culture. Proceedings of a conference held in March 2015 will be published in autumn 2016.

Medieval European Coinage

Medieval European Coinage is a major international work of reference for medieval numismatists, archaeologists and historians. The series of some 20 volumes, published by Cambridge University Press, will cover the coinage of Europe c. 450 to c. 1500, region by region. The MEC Project is producing the first comprehensive survey of European medieval coinages since the Traité de numismatique du moyen âge of Engel and Serrure (3 vols, 1891-1905). Each volume of MEC provides an authoritative, up-to-date account of the coinage of an area, written by experts in the field. The text is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue of the coins in the unrivalled collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, largely formed by Professor Philip Grierson

Michelangelo – A Discovery

Unsigned and undocumented, yet evidently by a great Renaissance master, the Rothschild bronzes were loaned to the Fitzwilliam Museum from summer 2014 until autumn 2015 and became the centre of a major international, interdisciplinary research project led by Dr Victoria Avery (Keeper, Applied Arts) and Professor Paul Joannides (Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Cambridge). Visual analysis and circumstantial evidence have permitted the Principal Investigators to propose that they are early works by Michelangelo, datable to c. 1506-08.  A multi-authored volume on the Rothschild bronzes is currently being prepared for publication (spring 2017). 

MINIARE: Manuscript Illumination: Non-Invasive Analysis, Research and Expertise

MINIARE is a cross-disciplinary project using advanced methods in the physical sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences to examine artists’ materials and techniques in illuminated manuscripts.  It is led by the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Department of Manuscripts and Printed Books in collaboration with colleagues across the humanities, social and mathematical sciences.  The Project’s current focus is on Western European manuscripts produced between the 6th and the 16th century. This phase of the project is the research platform for the Museum's bicentenary exhibition COLOUR: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts, (30 July - 30 December 2016) 

Re-approaching Ancient Cyprus

A re-contextualisation and redisplay of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s collections of Ancient Cypriot artefacts to reflect the close affinities of the island of Cyprus with its neighbours, particularly the Aegean, Near Eastern and North African cultures, across time.  The project will also bring to light the fundamental role the island has played in trade across the Mediterranean region, as well as the way its insularity has shaped a unique cultural identity, allowing indigenous cultural forms to be preserved and transmitted whilst new ideas and external influences   are simultaneously assimilated.  Supported by the A. G. Leventis Foundation.

Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles

The British Sylloge project was first promoted in the early 1950s by Christopher Blunt and other members of the British and Royal Numismatic Societies. An informal committee was formed under the chairmanship of Sir Frank Stenton, who in 1956 secured its admission as a Committee of the British Academy. The first volume, on Anglo-Saxon coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, was published by the British Academy in 1958; almost 70 further volumes have since been published, covering more than two hundred national, university and provincial museums, as well as select private collections, in Britain and Ireland and of museums in Scandinavia, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and the United States of America.

The Glynn Collection of Parian Ware

The Fitzwilliam Museum has recently been allocated the David Glynn collection of English parian ware statuary, totalling 360 pieces. Parian, a type of bisque porcelain imitating pure white marble from Paros in Greece, was invented in around 1845, and had the advantage over marble in being cheaper and easier to mass reproduce.  In collaboration with the Department of Art History at Birmingham University, the Fitzwilliam will be seeking funding to document and research this collection of national significance. Planned outcomes include a conference and a publication examining the manufacturing processes and social context of 19th-century parian ware, as well as the creation of a teaching collection.

‘To be Treasured for a Thousand Years’: Chinese Bronzes at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Chinese bronzes are inherently different from bronzes of other cultures/civilizations, primarily for the reason that they were cast into eating and drinking utensils for use as ritual vessels in ancestor worship rather than into sculptures depicting mythical or historical figures. Different types of bronzes had different functions and meanings, but the choice of the material expressed a wish that these utensils would last forever. 

Projects by Department

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