Main menu

Thinking with drawing: An interdisciplinary workshop with a focus on the drawings of Raphael

Monday 9th January 2017, Ashmolean Museum, 12.30 – 4.30

Renaissance drawings have traditionally been approached from a connoisseurial standpoint, using documentary evidence to address questions of style, authorship, date and function. Raphael’s drawings provide an illuminating case study of this tendency as the locus of extensive connoisseurial debate, and as objects viewed by art historians as essentially project oriented, preparatory works. However, new interdisciplinary research led by Catherine Whistler (Ashmolean Museum) and Ben Thomas (University of Kent), supported by a grant from The Leverhulme Trust, instead takes the concept of eloquence as a starting point to explore the graphic language, materiality, visual rhetoric and agency of Raphael’s drawings. This methodology, in common with more conventional connoisseurship, is based on the close scrutiny and analysis of drawings but seeks in addition to identify their cognitive and expressive dimensions as the work of the experienced, ‘intelligent’ hand of the artist. Drawings are approached as autonomous material works, imbued with cultural and artistic values, rather than as links in a teleological progression towards the polished painting.

Research questions

Can we identify specific ways of ‘thinking with drawing’, and relate this to Renaissance concepts of memory, visualization and imagination? Will a consideration of drawing as process, as improvisation or as orchestration open up identifiable relationships with theory and practice in musical and literary studies? Can we establish an understanding of the ‘intelligent hand’ in drawing in relation to a Renaissance culture that prized oral and bodily performance? What can drawings afford in terms of their affective or persuasive qualities, and how might the process of receptive viewing resonate with the Renaissance or contemporary beholder?


The workshop will be discursive and collaborative, based on exchanges in front of the drawings in the Ashmolean’s Print Room. There will be no formal papers but each participant will be proactive and responsive. We welcome participants, either faculty members or doctoral candidates, from areas such as cultural and literary studies, performance, musicology, and art history; and from disciplines such as fine art, social anthropology, theology and experimental psychology. However, these are suggestions only and we welcome applicants from all subjects.

Numbers are very limited, as our discussions will be led by viewing the objects.

If you are interested in participating, please contact or