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The Courtauld Launches Inter-University Internship Programme

Mount Athos Cross, 17th or 18th century, Greek. Cypress wood, 45.1 x 22.7 cm. Samuel Courtauld Trust: Gambier-Parry Bequest, 1966.

THERE ARE many wonderful objects in The Courtauld Gallery’s collection of decorative arts which, because of their singularity in relation to the permanent displays, have rarely been shown and are unknown to all but the most specialist scholars.

Illuminating Objects is a programme of rotating displays intended to put some of the most beautiful or interesting of these works on view for three months in the room which most relates to the object’s cultural or chronological identity.

Illuminating Objects will be run as a series of internships offered to postgraduate students at UK universities engaged in research primarily in disciplines outside the history of art. The internships will be highly structured training opportunities, with students responsible for delivering their own single-object display in The Courtauld Gallery.

Selecting a work from a group that matches their particular area of expertise, they will research and interpret the item, produce labels and copy for the website, as well as a blog. They will also be expected to give a lunchtime talk. By making this an interdisciplinary programme, The Courtauld Gallery hopes to cast a different light on the objects in its care, with interns from history and literature, the sciences and theology invited to participate.

In 2012/2013, The Courtauld Gallery will collaborate with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), King’s College, the University of Kent’s interdisciplinary Text and Event in Early Modern Europe programme (TEEME), and University College London (UCL).

The first object in the Illuminating Objects series, on display from October 30, 2012 to February 4, 2013, is an impressive Orthodox cross, one of three in the collection. This intricately carved cypress wood benediction cross was part of the collection of Thomas Gambier Parry (1816-88) which was bequeathed to The Courtauld Gallery by his grandson, Mark Gambier-Parry in 1966.

The intern responsible for all the Gallery and web texts is Dr Eleni Dimitriadou, a young Byzantinist who completed her PhD at The Courtauld Institute of Art last year and is currently working as an Associate Lecturer there.

This cross was probably made in the renowned monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece, a complex of twenty monasteries, which for centuries was a centre of miniature wood carving, a craft still practised by the monks there today. Decorated with minutely carved scenes of the Old and New Testaments, it was used for the benediction of the congregation during the liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

Its main body bears episodes from the Great Feasts Cycle, known as the Dodekaorton in Greek, essentially events from the life of Christ and the Virgin, while the foliate ornaments surrounding it are carved with Old Testament narratives and images of prophets and saints.

A pair of Greek acronyms referring to the salvation of mankind can be seen on the lateral sides of the cross. The metal base was probably added in the 19th century.

Other areas that will be the focus of the Illuminating Objects series include Spanish lustreware ceramics, African and Oceanic wood carvings, Renaissance and later ivories, and German and Venetian glass, to name but a few.

The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN