- Early Modern Cultural History
- Decorative Arts, Design and Material Culture
My interest in the decorative arts and design initially led me to specialise in the nineteenth century, particularly in Continental and British furniture of the period. I have brought together some of my research in this area in the chapter ‘Makers, Making and Materials’ for the nineteenth-century volume of the series A Cultural History of Furniture (Bloomsbury Academic), of which I am the general editor. Although I continue to be very active as an advocate for the teaching and research of the decorative arts, design and material culture in universities, over the past ten years my own research and writing has moved toward the art and cultural history of the early modern period. My first book, The Flemish Merchant of Venice: Daniel Nijs and the Sale of the Gonzaga Collection (Yale), presents an in-depth study of the greatest art transaction of the seventeenth century, from the perspective of the deal’s broker and pivotal figure, the Flemish merchant and collector Daniel Nijs (1572-1647). The volume is one of Christie’s best art books of 2015. It deals, though, not just with art but a wide range of topics from diplomacy to trade routes and finance, bringing them together within the framework of Nijs’s career. The émigré experiences of Nijs and his fellow southern Netherlanders in Venice encouraged me to embark on a much wider, global understanding of merchants not only as traders but as cultural diffusers, thereby inspiring my next two projects. The first, which has resulted in the volume of collected essays Early Modern Merchants as Collectors (Routledge), represents a first attempt to bring together specialists working on this topic from a broad geographical range, including experts on early modern Japan, China, India, Britain and Continental Europe. It challenges the way in which collecting has traditionally been studied, through biographies and inventories, and proposes not only new research questions and sources but also innovative approaches to understanding the values, status and behaviour of merchants. The second project, in the process of completion, is a monograph addressing the formation, workings and evolution of the Flemish merchant ‘diaspora’, 1450-1650. However, while the book gives an overview of the presence and activities of Flemish merchants across the globe in this period, at the heart is the history of the Hellemans family of Antwerp, whose members were spread across Europe and the globe and whose firm dealt in diamonds. In addition to their commercial activities, they were great patrons of the arts and present an excellent case study of how Flemish merchants used art for socialisation, among other things, in this period. Currently, I am also the founding editor of the new series Oxford Studies in Collecting with Oxford University Press, with the first volumes expected in 2017. My research has been supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, the Society for Renaissance Studies and the Drapers' Company.