We’ve all been told that to excel in anything you must “go that extra mile”. Over the last year, I have travelled a grand total of approximately 1548.6 miles (23 hours and 45 minutes of travel) in the cause of my dissertation on Leonardo da Vinci’s portraits.
I’ve been to Windsor Castle, The Queens Gallery, London, and the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, as well as to the Louvre in Paris and the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. And I thoroughly enjoyed every mile. I feel that you can write with a certain conviction about works you have seen in person, jostled by tourists, so absorbed that you cannot leave.
The highlight of doing a dissertation was not, as you might expect, the moment I submitted it (in fact, at that point I was filled with what I can only assume mothers get when their children leave for university). No, the real highlight was visiting the Royal Collection of drawings at the Windsor Castle Print room. It was incredible, although I think they thought me rather a pest at not wanting to leave. Another wonderful day was getting the train up to Edinburgh to attend a lecture delivered by Luke Syson (Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). And, of course, the day I spent 7 hours in the Louvre (not just looking at the Mona Lisa I might add!).
Not all trips were as satisfying. The most disappointing moment of my travels happened in Munich: strolling through the great museum, which houses so many of the works I have studied these past 3 years, I neared the Italian galleries and said to my reluctant boyfriend “oh the Virgin and Child should just be around the corner”. But, instead of Leonardo’s fifteenth century masterpiece, I encountered a blank wall. And this:
“This work is temporarily not on view for technological analysis of painting materials. The investigation is part of a research project on Florentine painting from the 14th to 16th century… We apologise for the inconvenience.”
The most frustrating sign in the world.
There is a great lesson to be learned from that episode: before you drive 11 hours to see a single painting, check that it is on display. (We were on holiday anyway but still!)
My top tip for third years starting their dissertations (and anyone else for that matter): go the “extra mile” for this project, it is such a big part of your degree, and daytrips make everything more fun! Also, start reading NOW – you will thank me in 10 months!
Charlotte Noakes-Robinson (BA Hons Art History 2013; now studying for a MRes)