Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting (2013-14)

AHRC-funded Fellowship: University of York in partnership with the National Gallery, London

CollaborationUniversity of York and the National Gallery, London

Funding: £136,438 AHRC

Duration: 18 months from April 2013 – September 2014

Principal InvestigatorDr Amanda Lillie (Department of History of Art, University of York)

Project Partner: National Gallery, London

The Project

This project used an exhibition at the National Gallery in London to explore the fictive architecture which became a strategic and conspicuous feature of Italian Renaissance painting. With historians of this period of Italian art generally focusing on the figure, those who have studied pictorial space have tended to concentrate on mathematical perspective. This new study of the buildings and architectural frameworks created within images entirely changed the way we perceive these paintings.

The exhibition and research project 'Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' addressed a fundamental question: what does architecture do for painting? It investigated how and why fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth-century Italian artists not only incorporated buildings in their work, but often took an architectural approach to painting.

Read more about the exhibition.

The project also generated a program of scholarly and curatorial events and publications, including:

  • a website with an online catalogue, pod casts, and inventive digital reconstructions;
  • a pre-exhibition conference session to explore the field (2013) and an international symposium (2014);
  • a research seminar at the National Gallery, given by Dr Lillie: 'Sculpting Architecture: Donatello's Banquet of Herod' (2014);
  • graduate conference, 'Beguiling Structures' (2014).


Dr Lillie co-curated the exhibition with Dr Caroline Campbell (National Gallery). The exhibition drew on expertise across many departments at the Gallery, including the Scientific and Conservation Departments, as well as the Exhibition Designers, Education, and Press and Marketing Departments and art handlers and registrars.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council produced a short film exploring how their funding underpinned the Building the Picture exhibition. Dr Lillie and Dr Campbell talk about the exhibition: its highlights and the impact of their own research and their collaboration.

Read about the grant in more detail, including a full abstract and outcomes, on the Research Councils UK Gateway to Research website.

Sculpting Architecture: Donatello's Banquet of Herod

Main image: Domenico Beccafumi, The Story of Papirius, mid 1520s, oil on wood; ©National Gallery, London ,

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