York/National Gallery CDP Holder: Jordan Cook (2017-20)

Jordan Cook is a current University of York/National Gallery Collaborative Doctoral Award holder (2017-20).  Her AHRC-funded PhD project 'Settings and Subjects in Early Netherlandish Painting' is supervised by Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein (University of York) and Dr Susan Foister (National Gallery).

Here, Jordan describes her involvement in the exhibition Making a Masterpiece: Bouts and Beyond, 1450-2020, currently showing at York Art Gallery.


My thesis examines variances in setting in Early Netherlandish art (from abstract backgrounds to naturalistic, fully-articulated spaces) and asks why artists formulated varying contexts for figural subjects. I am particularly concerned with how different settings can instruct/alter the viewer’s experience of the same subjects, and how settings or backgrounds contribute to the overall interpretations of these images. I predominantly focus on the Workshop of Dieric Bouts, notable for his experimental techniques and compositions, the master painter can be considered especially innovative in his settings, with significant attention paid to their execution.

From the beginning of my doctoral programme in October 2017, I have had the pleasure of being on the project team for York Art Gallery’s 2019/20 exhibition “Making a Masterpiece: Bouts and Beyond 1450-2020”. The exhibition, which examines how artists make images both materially and conceptually, is part of an innovative partnership with The Bowes Museum, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and the National Gallery. It is co-curated by Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein, my University of York supervisor, and I am incredibly grateful to her, and to everyone at York Art Gallery for my involvement in the exhibition.

I was able to attend meetings and contribute ideas across the two years of planning, collaborating not only with York Art Gallery but also visiting the teams at Bristol and the Bowes. I was also very excited to be a graduate teaching assistant on the 2018/19 Curating module "Group Exhibition Project" where students also contributed to the Bouts exhibition.

However, my central role was to collaborate with the digital team in researching and creating a digital interactive, or "app", to be displayed in-gallery during the exhibit and, eventually, online. The touch-screen interactive provides an in-depth look at the Workshop of Dieric Bouts’s Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, on loan from The Bowes Museum. The interactive went through many guises during the planning process, but the final product is split into three strands: The Painting, Making the Painting, and Designing a Composition. The first acts as an introduction to the painting, allowing the viewer to learn more about the legend of St Luke as an artist and discover the meaning behind religious symbols and smaller details within the artwork. In “Making the Painting”, we utilise infrared reflectography of the underdrawing to discuss the materials and methods involved in making the painting, seeing the decisions the artist made during the creative process. Finally, in “Designing a Composition”, we compare the St Luke painting with two earlier works (Jan van Eyck’s Madonna of Chancellor Rolin and Rogier van der Weyden’s Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin) and consider the artist’s inspirations and innovations in the painting’s composition.

The interactive also includes video interviews with Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein and me, talking in more depth about some intriguing aspects of the Bouts Workshop St Luke.

It has been an absolute pleasure to work alongside the curatorial and digital teams on this exhibition, and it is not quite over yet. I am now liaising with the volunteer coordinator, researching and organising a talk and workshop on "Authenticity and the Workshop" to be given at the gallery later this year.

Interactive in development

The interactive under development (photo: Jordan Cook)

Interactive in situ

The interactive in situ at the exhibition (photo: M Coughlan/YAHCs)

Jordan Cook in front of Bout's St Luck Painting the Virgin and Child

Jordan Cook at the exhibition, with 'Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child' (photo: Jordan Cook)

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