Charles Ford

Senior Lecturer


I have been working on a number of topics over the last years. Broadly speaking, what interests me is the emergence of painting as a commodity in the early-modern period and the debates on value which enmeshed (denying/enunciating) its new forms. This research is focused principally, but not exclusively, on the production and consumption of paintings and commentary in the Low Countries between 1550 and 1720. The dates mark the period from the establishment of the reformation to that of a number of financial scandals (the bubbles) which wracked atlantic Europe in the years after the War of Spanish Succession. The reformation marked a moment of desacralisation of much painters’ work, as well as the disintegration of communities of production which previously linked painting to other media (as, for example, a finishing trade). In 2007 I published an essay "Iconoclasm, the commodity, and the Art of Painting" (in Stacy Boldrick & Richard Clay [eds], Iconoclasm: contested objects, contested terms, Ashgate Press) which looked at Karel Van Mander’s account of the iconoclasm of 1566. My argument was that in his history of recent painting (Het Schilderboeck, 1604), as well as deploring the loss of works and ruin of careers, Karel Van Mander was able to see the benefits of a newly autonomous profession of painting succeeding the artisanal hybrid of trades which had obstructed painting’s fulfilment of its telos. For him the violence of the iconoclasm produced a final break between painting’s role as a servant to other (ritual) functions of the object and new rituals of high status knowledge and consumption.

I am presently looking at the later part of the period. The period of bubbles coincided with an episode of speculation and trading in ‘old master’ (Golden Age) painting which, it was lamented at the time, constrained the opportunities of living artists. I am trying to understand this market event in relation to emerging discourses of ‘classical economics’, description of and theories of money and credit, as well discourses on the ethics of speculation.

I welcome enquiries from prospective research students on subjects relating to the art history, visual culture and cultural history of the Low Countries (though by no means restricted to the Low Countries) during the early-modern period. I am especially interested in receiving proposals with a strong theoretical bent, linking across disciplines and narratives.


A list of publications is available from UCL's Institutional Research Information Service via the Iris link below.