About the research project

Study of a relief sculpture of a priest, pen and ink over black chalk on laid paper

The Anonymous Drawing: Values and Identities will explore a marginalized area within art history with a view to shaping a new framework for future thinking on drawing practice in Renaissance and Baroque art.  Studying the anonymous ‘old master’ drawing has been perceived as the preserve of the connoisseur or the museum curator, without relevance to broader academic interests in art history and beyond.  This research project is innovative in taking anonymity as an active value, as a site of presence rather than absence. ‘Anonymity’ has immense cross-disciplinary resonance in examining areas such as collaboration, palimpsests, authorship, strategies of reticence, and the creation or the suppression of identity, with the potential to spark fresh thinking in other disciplines.
The Anonymous Drawing project is stimulated by Catherine Whistler’s current Italian Drawings research project funded by The Getty Foundation (The Paper Project), which has two major aims: the production of an online catalogue of the Ashmolean’s Italian drawings and, through the process of cataloguing, the in-depth curatorial training of two post-doctoral art historians (successive Ashmolean-Getty Research Fellows).  Funded by a reserach grant from St John’s College, The Anonymous Drawing: Values and Identities will pursue a broader theme that has rich academic potential in the field of art history as well as wide-reaching cross-disciplinary significance.

Research aims

The project team will examine a range of drawings in the Ashmolean and other collections currently classified as anonymous, with specific research questions in mind on stratigraphy, materiality, function and collecting history. They will pursue further research questions on authorship, identity and value, past and present.  An interdisciplinary workshop will discuss concepts of anonymity in art and across other disciplines, and categories such as arbitrary, collaborative and deliberate anonymity. Over a four month period, the project will establish a framework for further ambitious cross-disciplinary research.

Banner image: WA.OZ791 Anonymous Italian, Tuscan-Roman, Two marine deities, pen and brown ink with brown wash over black chalk, the outlines pricked for transfer and possibly in part reinforced, on laid paper extensively made up, laid down on a secondary support, 27.8 x 43.6 cm © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

In-text image: WA1990.127, Anonymous 17th century artist, Study of a relief sculpture of a priest, pen and ink over black chalk on laid paper © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford. 

Project funders

St John’s College Research Centre

Project start

February - May 2021

Research Connections

Italians Drawings Project 


A co-authored article

Seminar / conference papers