2 PhD Positions in (Technical) Art History (1.0 FTE)

2 PhD Positions in (Technical) Art History (1.0 FTE)

Published Deadline Location
31 Jan 10 Apr Utrecht

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Are you the PhD candidate with a reading capacity of one or more European languages (i.e. German, French, Dutch, or Italian)?

Job description

The PhD student will work within the research programme Dynamics of the Durable: A History of Durability in the Visual and Decorative Arts (DURARE). DURARE is funded by the European Research Council, by way of a Starting Grant awarded to principal investigator Dr Marjolijn Bol. You will be based at Utrecht University and will as such also be part of the Department of History and Art History, section Art History. DURARE will undertake the first comprehensive study of the impact of the artisan's and patron’s ambitions to craft, own and theorize durable objects on the long-term development of the visual and decorative arts in the West. To understand the history of durability in art, this research programme asks how artisans explored ways to make art objects durable and what determined the desire of patrons to order and own durable art objects. DURARE thus investigates the changing ideas and expectations about:

  1. The acquisition of art: Ideas about how an art object might survive in the future;
  2. The making of art: Which materials and techniques were used for this purpose?
  3. The owning of art: What social practices and institutions were designed for an object’s survival?

This research programme will investigate the history of durability in art by integrating methodologies typical for the humanities and historical disciplines with historically informed reconstructions made in the project’s laboratory. We will use historical reconstructions as a historical-analytical tool to fill the gaps between the historical act of creation, the art objects and the textual sources that describe these actions or are the products thereof.

PhD position 1

Within the research programme, one PhD position is available for the project “Recipes for Durable Splendor, before 1400”. In the post-classical period, many arts are characterized by their common search for splendorous materials. Medieval artisans tried to create dazzling effects with two of the most durable materials found on earth - precious stones and metals - or hoped to imitate the optics and durability of these materials with visually similar materials. Painters and sculptors applied lustrous translucent colours and polished metals to wood; weavers and embroiderers used deeply saturated dyes and threads sparkling with gold, while glassmakers and enamellers tried to imbue glass with the colours of precious stones. The central problem of this PhD project is to investigate the relation between artistic practice and patronage through this search for durable splendor. The three key research questions are: 

  1. What was the impact of religious, royal and other elite patronage and social institutions (i.e. guilds) on the artisanal search for durable splendor?
  2. Which artistic materials and processes were explored to create durable splendor, and why?
  3. How did artisans gain and express knowledge about the stability and aging properties of materials used to make durable splendor?


The project’s main sources will be historical recipes (and the historical reconstruction and reworking thereof) which detail how to prepare and make art materials and describe the procedures by which art is made. In addition, this PhD project will consider historical sources related to art patronage, including guild regulations, contracts and other legal documents, and a selection of art objects to investigate the relations between artistic practice and patronage in the search for durable splendor.


PhD position 2

Within the research programme, one PhD position is available for the project “Problems of Paint and Permanence, 1400-1750”. The aim is to study how, between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries, the new value attributed to artistic skill changed the relation between the perceived durability of the artwork and the materials by which it was produced. The new value placed on “artistic skill” could now strongly increase the wish to transform relatively fragile objects - paintings and drawings especially - into assets with permanence in collections, thus posing new challenges both for the artisan and the patron or collector.

The PhD candidate will chart how the rather brittle media of paints and their supports came to be worthy of endeavors to gain permanency in 3 ways. The project 1) studies the role of durability in so-called paragone debates of the Renaissance, in which one form of art (architecture, sculpture or painting) is argued to be superior to all others; 2) considers durability in art theoretical treatises and painter’s handbooks, manuals and other testimonies to their practice such as letters and journals; and 3) determines how durability and materiality were impacted by the rising importance of the art market and cultures of collecting, the steady decline of the guilds, and the rise of academies as institutions defining and dictating the nature of painterly production.


Research Questions:

  1. How did social practices and institutions define, dictate or influence the nature of durability in the art of painting?
  2. Which artistic materials and processes were explored in the search for lasting paintings?
  3. What is the relation between artistic skill and durability in the art of painting?

The PhD candidates will work closely together with the PI and the other Researchers in the ERC project in Utrecht. The PhD candidates will have the opportunity to fill in or expand on their projects, based on her/his expertise, and in consultation with the PI.


Utrecht University


A successful PhD candidate should preferably have:

  • a (Research) Master’s degree in (Technical) Art History, Conservation & Restoration, History of Science and Technology or another relevant discipline;
  • a demonstrable interest in Art Historiography, and/or Technical Art History;
  • an outstanding record of undergraduate and Master's degree work;
  • excellent command of English, the common language of the project; reading capacity of one or more European languages (i.e. German, French, Dutch, or Italian); When you apply for position 1, reading capacity of Latin is considered a plus;
  • experience with practical experiments for history research or the willingness to learn this method;
  • strong writing and analytical skills;
  • capacity to work both as an independent researcher and as part of an international team;
  • capacity and willingness to collaborate across the disciplines, in particular (Technical) Art History and the History of Knowledge;
  • capacity and willingness to perform organizational and administrative tasks relevant to the project (i.e. organization of meetings, workshops, etc.). 

Candidates can apply for one or both of the PhD-positions. In case you apply for both positions, you can write a combined research design proposal of 1-2 pages.

Conditions of employment

We offer a temporary position (1.0 FTE) for an initial period of 18 months, starting 1 June 2020. After a satisfactory evaluation the position will be extended by another 30 months (4 years in total). The gross salary ranges between €2,325 in the first year and €2,972 in the fourth year (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year. In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). More information about working at Utrecht University can be found here.


A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

The Faculty of Humanities has around 6,000 students and 900 staff members. It comprises four knowledge domains: Philosophy and Religious Studies, History and Art History, Media and Culture Studies, and Languages, Literature and Communication. With its research and education in these fields, the Faculty aims to contribute to a better understanding of the Netherlands and Europe in a rapidly changing social and cultural context. The enthusiastic and committed colleagues and the excellent amenities in the historical city center of Utrecht, where the Faculty is housed, contribute to an inspiring working environment.


  • PhD; Research, development, innovation
  • Language and culture
  • 38—40 hours per week
  • €2325—€2972 per month
  • University graduate
  • 1088838



Domplein 29, 3512 JE, Utrecht

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