Summer Teachers Institute in Technical Art History

The Structures of Art

Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
July 21 – 25, 2014

What multiple meanings might be teased from the word structure?  An art historian may reference the compositional elements in a work of art, or frame the concept in the sense of late 20th-century Post-structuralist theory, with a look to the systems of knowledge embedded within the object. A conservator, on the other hand, anchors herself within the physicality of the work of art in order to consider the material support below the object’s visible surface. At the same time, a materials scientist looks through the perceived form of the work, to better grasp physical and chemical interactions at an atomic level. And yet, we might ask, are these various approaches necessarily at odds? What are the relationships between material and formal structures, between structure and artistic choice? And how might the structures of art be used as an effective course concept in art history departments?

The fourth annual Summer Teachers Institute in Technical Art History (STITAH), The Structures of Art, will address these issues and more, in the context of a five-day course devoted to the material structure in works of art.  Made possible through the generous support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, this intensive seminar will be held at the Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and at local museums/galleries, from July 21-25, 2014.    The STITAH presents a multi-faceted approach to the topic, including direct instruction, discussion, practical workshops and hands-on activities, with case studies drawn from collections in and around New York City.  Faculty will include conservators, scientists, architects and historic preservation specialists from both New York area institutions as well as guest lecturers from across the U.S. and abroad. Study units will move from a focus on paintings, to paper, sculpture, and finally buildings and large-scale monuments.  A final program will be posted once available.

Participating professors will be encouraged to explore and, in turn, receive guidance in creative ways of integrating technical art history into their own classes, whether introductory undergraduate courses or courses at the more advanced undergraduate and graduate level.  The Institute will provide relevant course readings and reading lists, and other curricular materials, for use in the participants’ own teaching and research. 

Is it for you?

Full-time art history faculty at North American colleges and universities are eligible to apply.  No background in science or conservation is required.  Consideration will be given to dual applications from an art history professor and a science professor who teach collaboratively at the same institution.  No more than fifteen faculty members will be admitted to the program, and applicants will be evaluated based largely on their expressed commitment to integrating technical art history into their own teaching curricula. 

Stipends and fees

Thanks to the generous support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, participating faculty will receive hotel accommodation at New York University as well as a $600 stipend to help defray travel and other associated costs. 

How to Apply

Applications should submit:

• A cover letter addressed to Michele Marincola, Sherman Fairchild Chairman and Professor of Conservation, Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, 14 East 78th St., New York, NY, 10075
• A statement of purpose describing both the courses they teach and their interest in integrating technical art history into their teaching
• An academic and professional CV

Deadline extended! Completed applications are due by April 11, 2014, and should be emailed to: Sarah Barack, Kress Fellow in Technical Art History

For more information on the program and its history, please click hereOpen link in new window.


STITAH 2013, entitled Behind the Image: The Painted Surface and its Technical Study, strived to address the following questions:  What hidden details of an artist’s working practice reveal themselves through close observation of individual artworks? How might careful study of an object’s condition lead to a better understanding of original intent? How best to synthesize technical studies with traditional art historical approaches, such that each more effectively complements the other?  Study units ranged in time and media, moving through millennia with the help of case studies and close looking at works of art; specific examples includes 3rd century Roman painted ceremonial shields from Dura Europos, works in tempera and oil as well as polychromy, and British and American watercolors. Extensive hands-on practical sessions devoted to tempera, oil painting, acrylics and water coloring complemented the lectures. 

The 2012 STITAH, held at Yale University, provided a general introduction to the topic through three curricular units: Early Italian painting and polychrome sculpture; works of art on paper and paper-based artists’ media; and 18th-19th Century American painting. The participants included 14 art historians and one chemist, attending along with her art history colleague. The group examined works of art in both the YUAG and YCBA galleries, and spent several sessions looking at art works in the YUAG conservation labs. The YUAG conservators further provided in depth demonstrations of analytical techniques, including x-radiography, x-ray fluorescence, infra-red reflectography, and more. A local paper artist lead a workshop on making paper, allowing all group members to make their own paper; the group then participated in a workshop at the YCBA paper conservation lab where they were encouraged to try a wide range of media intended for making marks on paper. David Bomford provided the keynote lecture, followed by a reception and dinner hosted by the YCBA, providing a thought-provoking highlight to the week’s captivating program.


The inaugural STITAH was held at the Conservation Center, with a focus on Pre- and Early Modern Masters. The program took full advantage of New York City’s museums and local expertise, and sessions were held at both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick Collection. A full morning’s focus on x-radiography, infra-red reflectography and binocular microscopy at both the Conservation Center’s labs and the Metropolitan Museum familiarized the participants with these techniques. Case studies addressing specific works of art were supplemented by two practical sessions on tempera and oil painting, where all participants were encouraged to get dirty. A culminating session at the week’s end took place in the Metropolitan Museum’s paintings conservation department.