UCL History of Art student wins AAH Dissertation Prize

Our congratulations go to Conor Kissane on winning the 2012 AAH Dissertation Prize

The prize is awarded by the Association of Art Historians, in collaboration with publishers Thames & Hudson, for the most outstanding undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations submitted by UK based students of History of Art and Visual Culture.

Conor says of his time as a student in the department:

'The biggest complement I can pay to the U.C.L. history of art department is that during my time studying there, I was never treated as if I were a student. Instead, it was always clear to me that I was considered an intellectual equal capable of participating in a mutual exchange of ideas. Rather than simply being expected to passively absorb information, I was given the framework and platform to develop my own critical and creative faculties. As the M.A. programme places students in direct contact with the current research interests of the academic community at U.C.L., we were on a daily basis debating ideas that seemed fresh and challenging, and not just learning things easily found in any decent anthology or survey of art history. As an intellectual experience, that is irreplaceable. Above all, my time at U.C.L. provided me with a wonderful opportunity to meet a wide range of fascinating people (students and lecturers alike) who were happy to share their fascinatingly diverse thoughts and interests with me. I am sure I will be friends with many of them for years to come, and my understanding of the infinite complexities of art and its history has been forever broadened by their acquaintance.'

image for Kissane dissertation

Dissertation abstract

The Violence of Representation: Imaging the Martyred Body in Santi Nereo ed Achilleo

This thesis focuses on the 16th century fresco cycle depicting the martyrdoms of the twelve apostles in the church of SS Nereo ed Achilleo in Rome, completed in the course of the restorations made to the basilica under the auspices of Cardinal Cesare Baronio in 1596-1597. Concentrating on the complex status of the saintly body through the rigours and ultimate triumph of martyrdom, the narrative scenes of violence represented here are analysed in relation to the trompe-l'oeil portraits of the apostles painted in illusionistic 'stone' that separate each martyrdom from the next. The frescoes are seen to posit martyrdom as a process that entails both the breaking and the reconstituting of the body. Suggesting that the martyred body can be productively conceptualised as the site of a divine metamorphosis, this thesis proposes that the moment of martyrdom signals the beginning of the transformation of the terrestrial body into its eternalised celestial form; furthermore, the fresco cycle is seen to dramatise this transformation through a concomitant development of pictorial language, namely from a narrative mode of representation to an iconic mode. Linking these transformations to contemporary discourse surrounding the contested status of the image in the wake of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the frescoes commissioned by Baronio emerge as a dramatic restatement of the power of sacred imagery and its continuing role in Catholic devotional practices. Finally, with reference to Jacques Derrida's theory of the parerga and Georges Bataille's writings on transgression, the capacity of such imagery to contain a discourse as inherently unstable as violence within its own interpretive boundaries is examined. Could represented violence be effectively invoked and then controlled in a religious context?