HBA Book Awards 2021

The Historians of British Art Book Prize Committee is pleased to announce the Book Award winners for publications produced in the 2019 calendar year. The winners were chosen from a nominating list of seventy books from thirty different presses. Awards were granted in four different categories.

The award for a single-authored book with a subject before 1600 goes to Jennifer Nelson, Disharmony of the Spheres: The Europe of Holbein’s Ambassadors, published by Penn State Press.

The award for a single-authored book with a subject between 1600-1800 goes to Matthew C. Hunter, Playing with Fire: Sir Joshua Reynolds, Photography, and the Temporally Evolving Chemical Object, published by the University of Chicago Press.

The award for a single-authored book with a subject after 1800 goes to Sarah Thomas, Witnessing Slavery: Art and Travel in the Age of Abolition, published by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art / Yale University Press.

The multi-authored book prize is jointly awarded to Chris Fern, Tania Dickinson, and Leslie Webster, The Staffordshire Hoard: An Anglo-Saxon Treasure, published by the Society of Antiquaries of London, and Nick Aikens and Elizabeth Robles, The Place is Here: The Work of Black Artists in 1980s Britain, published by Sternberg Press.

HBA would like to offer congratulations to the winning authors and the publishing teams at Penn State Press, the University of Chicago Press, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art / Yale University Press, The Society of Antiquaries of London, and Sternberg Press.

This year’s committee of readers consisted of Matthew M. Reeve (Chair), Jongwoo Kim, Martin Myrone, and Alison Syme.


HBA Book Award for Exemplary Scholarship on the Period before 1600

Jennifer Nelson, Disharmony of the Spheres: The Europe of Holbein’s Ambassadors, University Park, PA: Penn State Press. ISBN: 978-0-271-08340-7; ISBN: 978-0-271-08341-4

Disharmony of the Spheres is an extraordinary book that proposes a new approach to a canonical work of British art. Working across art history, the history of science, cartography, early modern philology, and diplomacy, Jennifer Nelson richly contextualizes Holbein’s famous painting within the broader intellectual world in which it was imagined. 

Nelson charts the ruptures in a unified society through detailed study of Holbein’s image and invites us to see it through a theological lens focused on difference and discrepancy. The result is a brilliant and unsettling defamiliarizing of The Ambassadors. 
 
Jennifer Nelson is an assistant professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In Spring 2021 she will be a fellow at the Clark Art Institute. Her most recent articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Art HistorySource: Notes in the History of Art, and ApricotaDisharmony of the Spheres: The Europe of Holbein’s Ambassadors is her first scholarly monograph.


HBA Book Award for Exemplary Scholarship on the Period between 1600-1800

Matthew C. Hunter, Playing with Fire: Sir Joshua Reynolds, Photography, and the Temporally Evolving Chemical Object, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN: 9780226390253

Painting with Fire is a startlingly original piece of work, weaving together the history of art, science, and technology to great and surprising effect. Ostensibly centred on the familiar figure of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the book leads us excitingly through a long, volatile history of scientific and creative experimentation, from the Royal Society to the early history of photography, showing the painter – and eighteenth-century art – in an entirely new light.

As impressive in its mastery of archival and literary sources as it is attentive to questions of materiality, technique, and visual effect, Hunter’s book opens our eyes to unexpected new possibilities for art history as a discipline.

Matthew C. Hunter is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University in Montreal. Author of Wicked Intelligence: Visual Art and the Science of Experiment in Restoration London (University of Chicago Press, 2013), Hunter has co-edited The Clever Object (Wiley, 2013) and Beyond Mimesis and Convention: Representation in Art and Science (Springer, 2010). An editor of Grey Room, Hunter is currently working on a project around insurance’s hold on Anglo-American art and architecture.


HBA Book Award for Exemplary Scholarship on the Period after 1800

Sarah Thomas, Witnessing Slavery: Art and Travel in the Age of Abolition, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art / Yale University Press. ISBN: 9781913107055

In Witnessing Slavery, Sarah Thomas explores how artists claimed eyewitness credibility in renderings of slavery that range from celebratory images of contented slaves to graphic depictions of horrific violence, with much in between.

Her compelling examination of the role that art and visual culture played in the public contestation of the “truth” of slavery probes artists’ and patrons’ agendas, and, while focused largely on British examples, offers illuminating comparative material from other imperial contexts. Thomas’s account of witnessing as an epistemological problem is as relevant to today’s world of competing truths as the age of abolition.
 
Dr. Sarah Thomas is Director of the Centre for Museum Cultures, and Senior Lecturer in History of Art & Museum Studies, at Birkbeck (University of London). Her research interests focus on the visual culture and museology of the British empire, the iconography of slavery, and the cultural legacies of British slave-ownership. 


HBA Book Award for an Exemplary Multi-authored Book

Chris Fern, Tania Dickinson, and Leslie Webster, eds., The Staffordshire Hoard: An Anglo-Saxon Treasure, London: Society of Antiquaries of London. ISBN: 9781527233508
 
The Staffordshire Hoard is a landmark study of one of the most significant discoveries in the field of British art over the last 50 years. From its discovery in 2009, the Staffordshire Hoard – the largest Anglo-Saxon gold treasure found to date – has attracted sustained attention and considerable debate. Here, for the first time, the artifacts are presented in their entirety and they are contextualized within the historical, regional and national contexts of early Anglo-Saxon England. 

The Staffordshire Hoard itself and this stunning volume serve to clarify and complicate the picture of a pivotal period of British history in which the first Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were established through warfare and consolidated through conversion to Christianity.

Chris Fern is an independent heritage consultant and an honorary research associate of the University of York, specializing in the archaeology, artifacts, and art of early England (AD 450–650). 

Dr Tania Dickinson is a specialist in the archaeology of early Anglo-Saxon England. She has written extensively on the burial practices, artifacts, and art of the period. She is a former senior lecturer in the Department of Archaeology, University of York, where she now holds an honorary research associateship.

Leslie Webster is Keeper Emerita of the British Museum’s Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory, and former Senior Curator of the Early Medieval Collections. She is also currently Visiting Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL. She lectures and publishes widely on Anglo-Saxon art and archaeology, and has curated major exhibitions on Anglo-Saxon and Insular themes. Her most recent book is Anglo-Saxon Art: A New History (British Museum, 2012).


HBA Book Award for an Exemplary Multi-authored Book

Nick Aikens and Elizabeth Robles, eds., The Place Is Here: The Work of Black Artists in 1980s Britain, Berlin: Sternberg Press/The MIT Press. ISBN 978-3-95679-466-7

Contextualizing the histories of racial hatred and oppression, The Place Is Here: The Work of Black Artists in 1980s Britain navigates the “boundaries and interstices of Black nationalism, postcolonialism and anti-colonialism, black feminism, black queer subjectivity, [and] anti-Thatcherism”. Edited by Nick Aikens and Elizabeth Robles, the book contains critical essays, individual object analyses, rare archival materials, and panel discussions.

Working against “the exclusive domain of white, predominantly male, European and American artists” that perniciously defined Art History in British institutions and communities in that era, The Place is Here explores forty artists and over one hundred works that resisted and transformed “regimes of representation” at the service of structural racism.

Nick Aikens is Research Curator at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (since 2012) and a PhD candidate at Valand Art Academy, University of Gothenburg. Recent exhibition projects include “Rasheed Araeen: A Retrospective” (2017-19, various venues) and “Yael Davids: A Daily Practice” (Van Abbemuseum, 2020). Alongside The Place is Here, other edited volumes include The Long 1980s: Constellations of Art, Politics and Identities (Valiz, 2018). He is a member of the editorial board of L’Internationale.

Dr Elizabeth Robles is a researcher and Lecturer in Contemporary Art in the History of Art Department at the University of Bristol. She is particularly interested in the formation of ideas around “black art” across the twentieth century and is currently a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow working on a project entitled “Making Waves: Black Artists & ‘Black Art’ in Britain from 1962–1982.”


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