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About the exhibition

How do ideas move from the mental to the physical? From centuries old vases and painted canvasses to books and the virtual, creative ideas manifest themselves visually and allow us to understand such diverse worlds as cartography and astronomy to music and philosophy. Artists have drawn inspiration from themes which have transcended time such as the study of the human body and the natural world, to give them physical presence. The earliest printed books contained illuminations and later illustrations in which image and word converged to generate new visual forms for the reader. Technology also impacted on the ability to interpret objects moving from the naked eye to the scientific instruments designed to enhance optics. This exhibition will explore connections between these developments and how the gestation of the creative idea contributes to our understanding of visual culture.


The exhibition draws together for the first time materials from Senate House Library with those of all of the Institute Libraries of the School of Advanced Study. The Library acknowledges the support of the Librarians of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Institute of Classical Studies, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Institute of Historical Research, Institute of Modern Languages Research and the Warburg Institute. We express our gratitude for the lending of their materials and likewise to EcoArtist Sarah Turner, Graphic Designer Simon C Page and architectural model constructors Robert and Gavin Paisley at Chisel & Mouse.

Get involved

Over the three months, the Illumination Series will host over twenty events: lectures, symposia, workshop and performances which explore aspects of the visual through different disciplinary perspectives to bring new insights into the materials on display in the exhibition and the Library's wider collections. Admission to the exhibition and events are free. However, due to space limitations, tickets are required for admission for the events. Click on the Eventbrite link for each event for ticket availability.

Illumination - How the Visual Captures the Imagination

Illumination-How the Visual Captures the Imagination is the featured autumn exhibition at Senate House Library, University of London which runs 28 September - 19 December 2015.
In addition, the Illumination Series, in support of the exhibition, curates more than 20 events: lectures, symposia, artist workshop, curatorial tours and live performances to enhance our understanding of the imagination and visual culture

Illumination events listings

DateSpeakerEvent information

29 Sept 2015


Prof Roger Scruton, FBA, FRSL

Uses and abuses of the imagination

Without imagination we see only the facts, deprived of the possibilities that give their meaning. Our vision is narrowed, stultified, severed from any conception of the whole. Training the imagination, exploring other worlds with a view to understanding and judgment, is an essential part of knowing what we are.

However, imagination can also be abused. We can escape into unreal worlds. We can become locked in addictive and narcissistic pleasures, by the habit of conjuring their ready-made correlatives. Visual dominance and screen addiction have made this process ever more present in our lives. Is there anything we can do about it, anything that we ought to do? Or should we just fry our brains in snake oil?

13 Oct 2015



Prof Steven Farthing (University of the Arts)

Drawing  Large Amounts of Information into a Manageable Form

Even though there are many different types of and uses for drawing we more often than not imagine drawing to be all about Art.

In my mind drawing is tied up with writing and mathematics and as such is simply a  means of representing thought  in two dimensions, so not something that requires framing.

Art appropriated drawing in a way that no other discipline ever managed to. To be an architect, a dress designer, an electrical engineer  or cartographer you must be able to draw. Not like Rembrandt, or in the way you learned in the art classes at school, but in a way appropriate to the goal. To draw a map, a circuit diagram, a dress patterns or a floor plan of a building you need  to be able to  understand, handle  and represent  large amounts  of information  accurately visually.

I drew drawing  in order to better understand the vast amount of information that is drawing. The lecture: Drawing large amounts of information  into a manageable form,  maps and explains the drafting strategies I used  as I  set out to explain drawing by drawing it.

Stephen Farthing R.A, Rootstein Hopkins Professor of Drawing, University  of the Arts, London

20 Oct 2015


Dr Claudia Wedepohl (Warburg Institute)

From Cossa to Kepler: Aby Warburg’s cosmology

Aby Warburg, art historian and theorist of culture, defined the Renaissance as the human being’s attempt to liberate itself from heteronomy in order to gain autonomy. As a metaphorical thinker Warburg saw this process reflected in the relationship between the individual and the cosmos as it manifested itself in the world of images with symbolic meaning: from the astrological calendar in the Palazzo della Ragione in Padua to Raphael’s School of Athens and beyond. In this paper I shall reconstruct the genesis of Warburg’s notion of an ever more abstract and thus calculable idea of the cosmos through classical knowledge in the early modern period and, in analogy, the individual’s discovery of the power over its own fate.

24 Oct 2015



Eco artist and designer Sarah Turner

Transforming Art: Make your own plastic bottle creation in an upcycling workshop

Make your own plastic bottle creation in an upcycling workshop with Eco Artist and Designer Sarah Turner. In this workshop you will learn the tricks and techniques to create your own plastic bottle flower and/or LED light. Not only will you get to take your creations home with you but you will also then have the knowledge and skills to continue making plastic bottle upcycled designs.

29 Oct 2015


Dr James Vigus (Queen Mary)

Henry Crabb Robinson’s Bildungsreise

Dr James Vigus’ talk (Queen Mary, University of London) will retrace the first continental journey of Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867). As a religious dissenter, Robinson could not take a degree at Oxford or Cambridge, but as a student at the University of Jena he became the foremost mediator of the revolution in German philosophy and literature to Britain. Images of Robinson’s own surviving maps, together with his travel diary of 1801, will show how he travelled – both physically and intellectually – to the heart of the Romantic movement. I will suggest that Robinson’s philosophical thought was stimulated not just by the new friends he acquired in Frankfurt, Göttingen and other German towns, but also by the process of travelling on foot. Robinson’s manuscripts suggest visually how walking changed his inner life.

2 Nov 2015


Professor Jules Davidoff (Goldsmiths)

Following Rivers: Discovering Ways of Seeing

At the turn of the 20th Century, an expedition set forth from Cambridge UK to the remote Torres Straits to investigate whether experience could alter perception. One of its members (WHR Rivers) reported their results on vision. Remarkable differences were found by Rivers between native groups there and UK natives but the difficulties of carrying out field investigations made for uncertain outcomes. Over the next 100years, others have tried to overcome the methodological problems so as to unravel those remarkable differences.  However, the conclusion that experience can alter perception will remain controversial unless we are clear about what is meant by a way of seeing. Differences in perception because of physiological differences (e.g., eyesight or cone function) should not be called different ways of seeing. However, evidence for truly different ways of seeing comes by making distinctions such as perception for discrimination (universal) versus perception for categorisation (cultural).

12 Nov 2015


Dr Cecilia Muratori (University of Warwick)

Talking Bodies: Human animals in Renaissance

According to the Renaissance philosopher Giovan Battista della Porta (1535-1615), physiognomics is a “law or rule of nature” (from the words physis and gnome) which makes it possible to understand the character of a soul by looking the shape of the body. Certain bodily features are interpreted as clear signs that the soul of that creature has a specific character. Comparisons between human and animals bodies are the main instrument of physiognomic investigations: for instance Della Porta suggests that a human being with small ears is probably nasty and libidinous, because it resembles a monkey, which is an animal with small ears; a crooked nose, on the other hand, is a sign of magnanimity, because eagles have a crooked beak and show that disposition. Physiognomics claims to be able to lead us to understanding the ‘inside’ by studying the ‘outside’, and it does so by employing animal comparisons. My presentation will investigate the background, philosophical foundation, and legacy of the science of physiognomics with a special focus on Renaissance sources. I will consider these main questions: What does the physiognomic method tell us about human and animal nature? Do animal-human comparisons actually imply that humans are animals? And what are the implications of using animal features to read the human body and to disclose the nature of the soul?

13 Nov 2015



The Arcane and the Archive

Speakers will include Joanne Anderson (Warburg Institute), Karen Attar (Senate House Library), Roy Booth (Royal Holloway), Stephen Clucas (Birkbeck), Guido Giglioni (Warburg Institute), Aldo Miceli (Warburg Institute) and others.

This one day symposium is a joint collaborative event between the Senate House Library and the Warburg Institute. It will explore facets of the world of the occult, by bringing together speakers alongside physical materials from both libraries. The occult, by its very nature, is other worldly and mysterious. As human beings are innately curious, it is hoped that this symposium will begin to reveal and unravel its secrets. As we begin to understand its mysteries, we understand a bit more about ourselves, our history, beliefs and common humanity.

A wide span of topics from the early modern to the modern period have been curated to provoke the mind: from angels and demons to witchcraft, from the sounds of the supernatural to the forces challenging the laws of nature, the imagination and the art of memory. The symposium will use the physical collections as a lens to project light into the occult and the hermetic tradition and will augment those in the various presentations. Attendees will have a rare opportunity to see the collocation of these physical materials which are not often displayed to the general public.

17 Nov 2015


Dr Gabriel Koureas (Birkbeck)

Male Body Terrors

The heroic male body and associated ideals of masculinity has been challenged in recent years by the body of the male terrorist. However, this paper will argue that this recent phenomenon of male body terror can be found in other instances. One example that this talk will discuss is Robert Maplethorpe’s photographic work and his depiction of gay male sexual encounters which provided a challenge at the time to perceived ideas of masculinity. The talk will attempt to juxtapose the male body of the terrorist and gay man in order to discuss transgressions of masculinities.

19 Nov 2015


Dr Martin Zaltz Austwick (UCL/Bartlett)

Visualising Data: Aesthetics and Analysis

Humankind is generating data about itself at an exponentiating rate, rapidly shedding its digital skin wherever it goes. Traditional statistics and computer science struggle to cope with this society-sized “Big Data” – but luckily, we all have access to one of the fastest pattern-recognition tools ever created, and it sits behind our eyes. Martin Zaltz Austwick, lecturer in data visualization at the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis in UCL will reveal the analytical power and aesthetic beauty of data visualization, revealing the ways in which the human becomes the virtual, and the virtual becomes the visual – and the physical.

20 Nov 2015


Dr Richard Simpson (Institute of Classical Studies, SAS)

Visionary Building

Richard Simpson explores the visual aspirations which have informed buildings from Charles Holden’s Senate House to Frank Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton, opened in 2014. How are our expectations of buildings formed by a range of visual witnesses, and how can we all take part in shaping the radically changing built world in which we live?

23 Nov 2015


Hester Reeve (Sheffield Hallam University)

Body I am, and "Book" is Just Another Word for the Body

We can never overestimate just how much of what we read affects how we interpret the world around us and how we choose to act in it. This live art action –part dance, part ritual- is a celebration of the liberation of our lives made possible by the phenomena of the book. Pushing their amazing content to one side, this performance confronts you with the sheer physical phenomena of books in their own right. Much like Nietzsche challenged: “Body I am and spirit is just another word for the body” in order to ground abstract philosophy in matter, Reeve wants to remind us that what we read through our eyes and process in our heads is continually transforming what we choose to become in our lived lives. Gyrating and banging is the name of the game, the spaces and corridors of Senate House Library become a renegade ballroom for applause of the power of the page.

Nietzsche also gave us the notion of ‘life as literature’ and, by extension, each of us can be said to write out our life as much as we live it. Where are the boundaries between reading, living and writing more broadly speaking and are they equal types of forces? All of these issues are up for lively debate in the post-performance discussion workshop. Participants are invited to bring the book or text that has affected their life the most with them to the event.

30 Nov 2015



Putting the Graphic in Music: Notation, Analysis and Performance

Since the ars subtilior, composers have tested the visual boundaries of the musical score. Whether it is the heart-shaped chanson of Baude Cortier found in the 14th century Chantilly Codex or the Hörpartitur created in 1970 by Rainer Wehinger for Ligeti’s Artikulation, graphic notation has expanded the available palette for composers beyond the limitations of the 5-bar staff. This one day symposium will explore issues of graphic notation, aesthetics and philosophy with notation, visual music, the relationship between notation and interpretation and/or improvisation, the boundaries of music notation and art.Concert by vocal constructivists (Goldsmiths Reading Room).

30 Nov 2015



Vocal Constructivists Perform a Variety of Music Compositions with Elements of Visual Notation

(Goldsmiths Reading Room). There will be an installation of scores for the audience to digest.

2 Dec 2015


Prof David Wengrow (UCL)

The Origins of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Evolutionary psychology offers some strong theories about why certain kinds of cultural representation spread more effectively than others in human populations. In particular, much has been written about the cultural “catchiness” of representations that violate innate cognitive expectations of what can be seen in the world – as with human-like beings that pass through solid objects, or figures that artificially combine elements from different species. How do images fit into these kinds of theories? What is a “monster”? And can tracing the distribution of “monstrous” images in the record of human image-making tell us anything about the relationship between culture and cognition? The talk will try to address at least some of these issues.

3 Dec 2015


Prof Naomi Segal (Birkbeck)

"The Animal that Never was": Unicorns in Rilke, Myths and Art

Rilke called the unicorn ‘das Tier, das es nicht gibt’: the animal that never was [literally, ‘the animal that there is not’] and wrote about it in several contexts, which will be visited in this paper. But what is an animal which spreads a ‘circle of legends’ around itself, sits in a closed garden, attracts virgins and is destroyed by them? It is found in ancient Indian, Persian and Chinese lore, in the Song of Songs, in medieval Christian mythology and also, allegedly, on land or sea – in the form of the rhinoceros or narwhal. It has all the sexes by turn and cannot reproduce, being somehow left behind when the creatures trooped into the ark. The less real it is, the more it is ubiquitously visible. What is most perfect about the unicorn is its virtuality: active because fictional, it continues to seduce and be seduced.

7 Dec 2015


Prof John London (Goldsmiths)Translation and Image

10 Dec 2015


Dr Katia Pizzi (Institute of Modern Languages Research, SAS)

Pinocchio Revealed: A Global Puppet in the Age of the Machine

This talk draws on my edited collection Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity: The Mechanical Body (Routledge, 2012). The creature of a 19th century traversed by a cultural enthusiasm for dummies, puppets, and marionettes, Pinocchio is characterized by a ‘fluid identity,’ informed with transition, difference, joie de vivre, otherness, displacement, and metamorphosis. He is a truly modern, indeed postmodern and post-human, cultural icon. My talk reassesses Pinocchio’s genealogy and progeny in the light of Mazzanti’s archetypal image, illuminating both the wider context and more specific cultural manifestations of the mechanical-human interface in domains as wide as the visual arts, theatre, literature, radio, and even virtual reality, cohering with the digital metamorphosis of our age. The comparative and multimedia focus of my discussion testifies to the enduring transcultural legacy of Pinocchio: eminently sellable as a traditional cultural icon, Pinocchio is equally relevant for a globalized, multicultural, and virtual society, from Collodi to Disney and beyond.

14 Dec 2015


Agnes Kory (Bela Bartock Centre for Musicianship)

The Life and Death of a Composer through Visual Images from Birth to Auschwitz

Franz Weisz was an outstanding pianist and a prolific composer who spent the first half of his life in Hungary, the second half in Holland. Owing to the circumstances of the German occupation of Holland, most of Weisz’s music may have been lost. Without visual images, Weisz would be wiped out from our collective memory before long.

In this talk Kory presents Weisz’s life, artistic career and tragic early death through pictures and other documents (such as birth certificate, family photos, concert posters, concert reviews and the Nazi’s administrative system of documenting the Holocaust).

Weisz was born in Budapest in 1893. The Budapest district where he was born and spent his youth was called Terézváros which is Theresienstadt in German. The final stop before Auschwitz for Weisz and many others murdered in Auschwitz was Terezin (in Czech) or Theresienstadt (in German). The talk will demonstrate, inasmuch as possible, Weisz’s student years in the National Conservatoire in Hungary, his known compositional output, his activities as a piano teacher and a concert performer. His family life will also be indicated.

In Holland Franz Weisz’s memory is kept alive by Dutch researchers, a surviving pupil of Weisz and the grandson of his brother. In Hungary, and – apart from Holland – probably in the rest of the world, Weisz is virtually unknown. It is to be hoped that visual images (and the very few audio examples on hand) will keep Weisz in our collective memory.

16 Dec 2015



Keynote: Paul Gravett

From Hogarth to Hellboy: the Transformation of the Visual Reader

With the dissemination of illustrated texts and the onset of political cartoons in the 18th century across Western Europe, the nature of the visual form and those ‘reading’ them have evolved from newspapers to graphic novels.  Whilst the medium has adapted to new digital materialities, social commentary and its reception has always served as a constant undercurrent regardless of its expressive form. Papers will explore issues of aesthetics, politics, the boundary of the genre and media as well as the changing nature for the spectator.

17 Dec 2015


Prof Michael Slater (Birkbeck)

Transformations of Scrooge

Scrooge as described by Dickens and illustrated by John Leech burst upon the English-speaking public immediately after Christmas 1843 as the archetypal miser of legend and folklore presented as  a contemporary London money-lender and grinder of the faces of the poor, especially in the persons of his poor clerk Bob Cratchit and his family including a crippled child, Tiny Tim. A Christmas Carol at once became, and has remained, one of the most popular stories ever written in English. Numerous stage versions appeared immediately and the actor O.Smith, famous for his portrayal of villains, was the first of a long line of star actors who enacted their differing versions of Scrooge for stage and screen, including Seymour Hicks’s early 20th century music-hall turn, Alastair Sim’s superlative performance in the 1951 Renown Pictures film, Albert Finney in an ill-fated musical(1970), Michael Caine in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) and Jim Carrey in the Walt Disney Carol (2009).  Scrooge has also exercised the pencil of some of the finest illustrators  following Leech’s original pictorial creation of him, among them Harry Furniss (1910), Arthur Rackham (1915), H.M.Brock (1934), Ronald Searle (1960), Fluck and Law’s Puppet Carol (1979). This lecture will also cover some of the ways in which Scrooge (or his widow!) has been recruited for particular causes from a recasting of the Carol as a polemic for free trade (1909) to Carol Ann Duffy’s Mrs Scrooge (illustrated by Posy Simmonds) which makes the Scrooges champions of the Greens (2009).  

Exhibitions at Senate House Library

Illumination ran from 28 September to 19 December 2015. The Library runs exhibition and engagement seasons throughout the year. Find out more on our exhibitions and events pages.

Senate House Library is located in Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU. See information about how to find us.