Introducing Professor Anne Dunlop, Herald Chair of Fine Arts

The Herald Chair of Fine Arts was established at the University of Melbourne in 1944 in commemoration of the victory of the allied nations in the Pacific, funded by the Herald and Weekly Times. The purpose of the Chair is for teaching the understanding and appreciation of fine arts and the application of their principals and practice to the life of the wider community.

In 2015 we announced the appointment of Professor Anne Dunlop to the Chair, and it is with great excitement we caught up with Professor Dunlop to discuss her transition to life in Melbourne and her new role.

Professor Anne Dunlop
Professor Anne Dunlop. Herald Chair of Fine Arts

Professor Anne Dunlop considers Melbourne the home of one of the world’s most interesting arts communities. Inspired by the legacy of her new position, she is looking forward to fostering that passion and interest, encouraged by her students and colleagues who are already deeply embedded within leading institutions such as the NGV, ACMI, the State Library of Victoria, and other formal and informal partners of the University of Melbourne.

As a new Melbournian, Professor Dunlop is enthusiastic about the food and coffee culture of Melbourne and finds great pleasure in the complexities of her new home. ‘Melbourne is a city that you discover slowly’, she says. ‘Every street you turn down or area that you visit holds something unexpected’, she explains. ‘Close to where I live there a number of artist stores that sell artist supplies. One of these carries traditional pigments, the artists’ materials that artists would have used in Europe and visual cultures close to seven hundred or a thousand years ago. To me, this is wonderful!’

A Montreal native, Dunlop completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) at Queens University in Ontario, a Licence at the University of Lyon  in France, and a Master of Arts in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia. Relocating to England to complete her PhD, Dunlop worked in a series of positions in London and Montreal, before her appointment as Professor at Yale University. From Yale University, which she describes as a truly international campus with unbelievable resources, Professor Dunlop moved to Tulane University in New Orleans, where she spent a number of happy years soaking up the unique Southern culture.

Arriving in New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina hit the city; Professor Dunlop was fascinated by the period of rebirth and renewal that was taking shape around her. ‘New Orleans defines itself through culture; its music, food and the art scene’, she says, noting that ‘a lot of young artists, curators and creators moved into the city in the wake of Katrina’, making it a thriving hub of activity, and an ideal environment for an art historian. During her time as Head of the Art Department at Tulane, in addition to the Art History program, Professor Dunlop was also responsible for the art studio programs, giving her daily engagement with the ‘art makers’. ‘Historically, the two poles of art history and art practice have moved sometimes closer, sometimes further apart’, she reflects, but the intersection and collaboration between the two disciplines is an area that she is very passionate about. As such, in her capacity as the Herald Chair, Professor Dunlop is dedicated to developing further partnerships between the arts programs in the Faculty of Arts and the Victorian College of the Arts.

The University of Melbourne and the greater city offer boundless entertainment and opportunities for people who work in the Arts. Animated by the wide range of Universities, Galleries, Institutes and Colleges working in and around the visual arts, Professor Dunlop appreciates how welcoming her colleagues and students have been in their eagerness to connect her with the hundreds of initiatives, projects, art exhibitions already happening cross Melbourne. ‘I’m finding my way slowly, and enjoying the experience very much’, she notes. Although a relatively new arrival to Melbourne, Dunlop reveals she has already become involved with an exhibition to be held at the National Gallery of Victoria. In collaboration with the University of Melbourne’s Centre for the History of Emotions, and planned for March 2017, the exhibition will feature ‘mostly early modern European art’, which Dunlop admits is ‘a beautiful fit’ with her existing body of work.

Professor Dunlop is eager to further strengthen ties to the National Gallery of Victoria.
Professor Dunlop is invigorated by the opportunity to work with the National Gallery of Victoria.

As a new comer to the University, Professor Dunlop is particularly excited by the Faculty of Arts’ commitment to object based learning. The most basic definition of art history as a discipline is to look at and learn from objects, so the commitment and application of this pedagogical approach beyond the disciplines of art history and curatorship is gratifying for Professor Dunlop. ‘As a personal inclination and a strong pedagogical belief, I’ve always done as much of my teaching as possible in and around collections and exhibitions’, she explains, elaborating on the immense possibilities for active learning through the University’s extensive resources. ‘Teaching the subject Renaissance Art in Florence and Venice, I have developed the course so that a number of the tutorials are being taught in the University of Melbourne collections. We can do that here in Melbourne because we have an unbelievable collection that truly is one of the strongest European print collections anywhere’. The conversations that are prompted between students and colleagues when exposed to the physical item as opposed to a representation are so much stronger and more interesting for all parties involved, which Professor Dunlop fervently believes represents a significant shift for both teaching and learning.

Andrea del Castagno and the Limits of Painting by Anne Dunlop.

In addition to her appointment as Herald Chair, Professor Dunlop celebrated another career milestone in 2015, publishing her fifth book Andrea del Castagno and the Limits of Painting. The book explores the work of Andrea del Castagno, an artist working in Florence in the mid-fifteenth century, and the ways in which art was changing at the time, with particular reference to the paths not taken, the solutions or visual questions that were left unanswered along the way. By investigating the limits of art and painting, Professor Dunlop explored aspects of art it terms of what goes forward and what doesn’t, the cases where people were successful in their own day, but not afterwards. ‘These are often more interesting and more revealing than looking at those artists we more commonly study’, she adds.

The ways in which Italian and European art changed in the wake of the Mongol conquests is another of Professor Dunlop’s research interests, which emerged from her time in China on visiting Professorships in Beijing and Hangzhou. There were huge shifts in trade, pigments, materials and technologies during the 15th Century, and Professor Dunlop’s research explores questions such as ‘What happens when Italy becomes the gateway to Europe, and Europe becomes the tail-end of Eurasia?’ She hopes to finish a manuscript on this subject in 2016, and on the basis of this research, has already been commissioned to write another book called Global Renaissance. Her new work will look at a series of thematic issues that arose across different world and visual cultures between 1400 and 1650, such as the role of eroticism. She explains how in part, these concerns developed because, ‘cultures where in touch with each other in a way they simply hadn’t been before. Suddenly you had to work to define your own culture, including your relationship to the past, in a different way’.

Professor Dunlop will also lend her editing expertise to the Ian Potter Museum of Art, as they seek to publish a book of essays based on the lectures and talks given in relation to the highly successful An Illumination: the Rothschild Prayer Book and other works from the Kerry Stokes Collection c.1280-1685 exhibition held in 2015. In addition to her full schedule in Melbourne, Professor Dunlop has been appointed to Harvard University’s Villa I Tatti Centre for Renaissance Studies as a visiting professor. She is quick to identify the incredible resources available and the community of scholars as clear highlights of the posting, adding that the accommodation in a Tuscan villa – complete with warnings to carry flashlights in case of chance encounters with wild boar – was just an unexpected advantage on top of an already incredible professional opportunity.

The grounds of the Villa I Tatti, Harvard University’s Center for Renaissance Studies, where Professor Dunlop has been invited as a Visiting Professor.
The grounds of the Villa I Tatti, Harvard University’s Center for Renaissance Studies, where Professor Dunlop has been invited as a Visiting Professor.

On the basis of her research about the Global Renaissance, Professor Anne Dunlop will present a Faculty of Arts Dean’s Lecture later in the year. For more information about this event, keep a close eye on our events website.