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Dr Leah R Clark

Leah R Clark, Audrey Hepburn Exhibition, National Portrait Gallery

Profile summary

  • Lecturer in Art History
  • Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
  • School of Art His, Class St, Eng&CW, Mus
  • Art History
  • leah.clark

Professional biography

BA Honours Art History (University of British Columbia, Vancouver), MA Art History (Courtauld, London), PhD (McGill University, Montreal)

Leah R. Clark’s research explores the roles objects play in creating networks in the fifteenth century through their exchange, collection, and replication. She joined the OU in 2013, having taught a wide range of courses in Canada and America including Art History courses on the Italian Renaissance, collecting, art in the Italian courts, and cross-cultural encounters in the early modern world, in addition to cross-disciplinary courses in the Humanities.


Research interests

Dr Clark has recently finished a book manuscript on the collection and exchange of objects in the Italian courts. The project examines the courts of Italy (particularly Ferrara and Naples) through the myriad of objects—statues, paintings, jewellery, furniture, and heraldry—that were valued for their particular iconographies, material forms, histories, and social functions. The constant circulation of precious objects in the late fifteenth century reveals a system of value which placed importance not only on ownership, but also on the replication, copying, and translation of those objects in an array of media. The objects of analysis are thus considered not only as components of court life, but also as agents that activated the symbolic practices that became integral to relations within and between courts, operating as points of contact between individuals, giving rise to new associations and new interests.
Her next book project, 'Courtly Exchanges: Touch, Transfer, and Translation in the Mediterranean (1450-1500)' investigates how objects and materials functioned as diplomatic agents in cross-cultural relations. It explores the transformative processes of their translation and transfer, which allowed for materials and motifs to become incorporated into local visual culture and production in fifteenth-century Italy.  She has received a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant for research connected to this project (‘The Peregrinations of Porcelain: Touch, Transfer, and Translation in Cross Cultural Exchange (1450-1500)’). 

As part of this interest in cross-cultural encounters, she co-edited (with Nancy Um) a special issue of the Journal of Early Modern History, 'The Art of Embassy: Objects and Images of Early Modern Diplomacy' 20 (1), 2016. She is also co-organiser (with Dr Katherine Wilson, Chester) of an interdisciplinary research network examining the mobility of objects across and beyond European boundaries during the period (1000-1700). By starting from the objects themselves, they seek to consider the mobility of objects, their flexible and adaptable natures to underline the permeable and impervious character of boundaries. This network has resulted in a session at the European Social Science History Conference in 2016.

She has presented at numerous international conferences including the Renaissance Society of America, the Association of Art Historians, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Courtauld Institute of Art, the College Art Association, and the Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art (CIHA).

She is the recipient of various awards and fellowships from the British Academy, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Italian government, and she received the McGill Arts Insights Dissertation Award for her PhD thesis, ‘Value and Symbolic Practices: Objects, Exchanges, and Associations in the Italian Courts (1450-1500).’

At the OU, she is co-chair of the Medieval and Early Modern Research Group.


Teaching interests

Dr Clark is currently the chair of the new MA in Art History and is contributing author and co-editor of the first book of the new third level module, A344. 

She is also pioneering a new project called Open Arts Objects - a series of short films to be used as teaching materials in schools.

Students interested in topics concerning early modern Italy, and in particular those related to collecting, court culture, cross-cultural relations and exchange theory should contact Leah Clark by email.

Research Activity

Externally funded projects

The Peregrinations of Porcelain: Touch, Transfer, and Translation in Cross Cultural Exchange (1450-1500)

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Apr/201630/Apr/2017BRITAC British Academy
This BA grant supports research into the mobility of Chinese porcelain in 15th-century Italy through three key themes—touch, transfer, and translation. The Medici of Florence have long been recognised as having the largest collection of Chinese porcelain, but this project will show that Eleonora d’Aragona, Duchess of Ferrara had the largest in Italy at this time. Eleonora’s collection is significant not only for its sheer volume, but also for the effects it had on artistic production in and around Ferrara. Taking porcelain as a starting point, this study explores the transformative process of cross-cultural exchanges—how objects, materials, and motifs were translated across media and became incorporated into local visual culture and production. The grant will result in a number of outputs: an article examining Eleonora’s collection; an article on the role of porcelain in diplomacy and cultural exchange; a panel at the European Social Science History Conference (2016); a conference paper at the Renaissance Society of America (2017). It will also be the basis for a future conference, exhibition, edited volume and book, as part of a collaborative project between Leah Clark and Katherine Wilson (Chester).


Introduction: The Art of Embassy: Situating Objects and Images in the Early Modern Diplomatic Encounter (2016-04)
Clark, Leah and Um, Nancy
Journal of Early Modern History, 20 (pp. 1-16)
Collecting and replicating antiquities: casts, substitutions, and the culture of the copy in the Quattrocento (2016-03-01)
Clark, Leah R.
Journal of the History of Collections, 28(1) (pp. 1-13)
Collecting, exchange, and sociability in the Renaissance studiolo (2013-07)
Clark, Leah R.
Journal of the History of Collections, 25(2) (pp. 171-184)
Transient possessions: circulation, replication, and transmission of gems and jewels in Quattrocento Italy (2011)
Clark, Leah R.
Journal of Early Modern History, 15(3) (pp. 185-221)
Dispersal, Exchange and the Culture of Things in Fifteenth-century Italy (2017-09)
Clark, Leah R
In: Jurkowlaniec, Grażyna; Matyjaszkiewicz, Ika and Sarnecka, Zuzanna eds. The Agency of Things in Medieval and Early Modern Art: Materials, Power and Manipulation (pp. 91-102)
Publisher : Routledge | Published : London
Replication, quotation, and the ‘original’ in Quattrocento collecting practices (2013)
Clark, Leah
In: Großmann, G. Ulrich and Krutisch, Petra eds. The Challenge of the Object / Die Herausforderung des Objekts, Congress Proceedings (CIHA). Wissenschaftliche Beibände zum Anzeiger der Germanischen Nationalmuseums (32) (pp. 136-140)
ISBN : 978-3-936688-64-1 | Publisher : Germanisches Nationalmuseum Press | Published : Nuremberg

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