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Staff profiles

Dr Jamie Edwards

Lecturer in Art History and Visual Culture

I am a historian of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Western European art and visual culture, with particular interests in sixteenth-century Netherlandish painting and the interrelationships between art and social, political and religious upheaval. I hold an AHRC-funded PhD that examined the religious paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-69) and his predecessors. I am currently working on my first monograph, provisionally entitled: ‘ “Scripture Reanimated”: Art and Exegesis in Reformation Europe’ (100,000 words; under development with Amsterdam University Press). Before taking up my post at Exeter, I worked as Teaching Fellow in Renaissance and Early Modern art at the University of Birmingham (2017-19); and, prior to that, as Lecturer in Art History at Oxford Brookes University (2016-17). 


Research interests

My work focuses on visual culture and religion in the sixteenth-century Netherlands. In particular, it seeks to shed light on how artists negotiated the profound and far-reaching social, religious and spiritual upheavals of the day, as the reality of a religious war between the Netherlands and the Spanish crown looked ever-increasingly likely, and the kinds of resolutions to such matters that works of art might have promoted or engendered consideration of.

My current book project expands on my PhD thesis (2016), which examined an innovative approach to pictorial narration developed by Netherlandish artists including Herri met de Bles and Pieter Bruegel the Elder -- an approach that departed in all significant respects from hitherto existing traditions in European art and, in particular, is strikingly at odds with the Italian tradition of the 'historia'. Taking a holistic approach -- by avoiding a single-artist focus and looking at art produced over the first three-quarters of the sixteenth century -- the book aims to plot the development of this idiosyncratic mode of visual narration developed by Netherlandish artists, and elucidate its significance and meanings in the context of political rebellion, confessional dispute and evolving spiritual practices and outlooks. Ultimately, I argue that Netherlandish artists cultivated an exegetic approach to visualising religious subjects, producing paintings that simulatensously invited and propounded consideration of the relevance of biblical events to contemporary crises, by drawing on a rich tradition in contemporary (e.g. Erasmus; Franck) and ancient (e.g. Josephus; Bede) exegetic literature and rhetorical treatises. Individual apsects of this research form the basis of other outputs and publications: e.g. an essay in an edited collection on Bruegel the Elder's 1564 painting The Carrying of the Cross that is in press; a long article on Bruegel's 'exegetic' Census at Bethlehem of 1566; and an exhibition on the Brueg[h]el dysnasty I am currently co-curating. 

Key issues and themes that interest me are:

- Early Modern art theoreticians, including Leon Battista Alberti and Karel van Mander (especially the latter's theories about visual appeal and sustained meditation set out in 'Den Grondt Der Edel Vry Schilder-Const' of 1604), and the correspondence between art theoretical principles on the one hand and actual artistic practices on the other;

- sixteenth-century rhetoric and rhetorical manuals/textbooks, principally the literary and educational writings of Desiderius Erasmus, and how these affected artistic production; 

- text-image relations and visual exegesis;

- Reformations and Counter-Reformations theologies and disputes and artistic responses/interventions;

- Early Modern pragmatism and tolerance, and especially how and to what extent artists' works intersected with trends in urbane spirituality in the sixteenth-century Netherlandish cities that are marked by a tendency towards dissemblance, dissumlation and evangelism in the context of increasingly proselytising and deadly confessional disputes.


Research supervision

I am open to discussing research proposals on any subject relating to my research expertise.


External impact and engagement

I regularly deliver talks and lectures at schools, museums and galleries aimed at promoting the study of History of Art. I am currently co-curating an exhibition on the Brueg[h]el dynasty scheduled for Autumn 2021 at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts.