Research Keeper, Western Art Department

Professor Catherine Whistler

Professor Catherine Whistler


Research summary

My research is largely focused on Italian art and I have published extensively on Venetian art, including the work of the Tiepolo family and their contemporaries. I am interested in life of objects and the history of collecting and display, thoughI often work on wider-ranging projects with interdisciplinary aspects. Exhibitions I have organised include ‘Opulence and Devotion: Brazilian Baroque Art’, and, in collaboration with the Yale Center for British Art, ‘The English Prize. The Capture of the Westmorland, an Episode of the Grand Tour’. As part of the exhibition 'Titian to Canaletto: Drawing in Venice' that I curated in 2015–16, in collaboration with the Uffizi, Florence, leading British artist Jenny Saville displayed her responses to the gestural and material qualities of Venetian drawing. The exhibition’s themes of the significance of drawing in Venetian artistic and collecting practices were explored in my book, Venice and Drawing: Theory, Practice and Collecting 1500–1800 (2016), which won a British Academy Medal.

My research project from 2016-2018 with co-investigator, Dr Ben Thomas (University of Kent), funded by the Leverhulme Trust, aimed to transform our understanding of Raphael, with eloquence in drawing as a research theme. We held interdisciplinary workshops exploring ideas on rhetoric, materiality, and the cognitive and expressive dimensions of drawing, and we shared our research findings in academic papers at conferences and seminars. As part of this project, the award-winning exhibition, 'Raphael: The Drawings' held at the Ashmolean from 1st June–3rd September 2017, in collaboration with the Albertina, Vienna, emphasised the visual and material eloquence of Raphael’s drawings. It won a Vice Chancellor’s PER award in 2019.

A major research project since 2018 with a focus on the Ashmolean’s Italian drawings collection is funded by the Getty Foundation as part of The Paper Project, an initiative focused on prints and drawings curatorship in the 21st century.   This supports curatorial training in drawings scholarship and object-based research by funding two 18-month research fellowships for early career art historians to equip them to become leading drawings curators in the future. Their activities, including research travel and consultation with distinguished drawings specialists nationally and internationally, focus on research and writing in preparation for a scholarly collection catalogue of the Italian drawings, with an online resource produced as a direct result of this project.

Building on the technical and connoisseurial investigations that characterise the Italian Drawings project, I set up a four-month research project in 2021, The Anonymous Drawing: Values and Identities, generously funded by St Johns College, Oxford. I am pursuing this theme in my current research with a view to publishing a book on this topic.


Until the end of December 2022, I was Keeper of Western Art, overseeing collections that include paintings and graphic art, sculpture and applied arts (notably ceramics, glass, textiles, furniture and musical instruments) ranging from the 1300s until the present day. I was also a curator, with responsibilities for Italian and Spanish art, French art before 1800, and Russian art. Under the University’s flexible retirement arrangement, I am now part-time at the Ashmolean, working as a Research Keeper, with the Italian Drawings research project my main focus here.  At St John’s College, I am now an Emeritus Research Fellow. 

I received my PhD from the National University of Ireland and lectured in Venice and Dublin before coming to Oxford as curator of the Christ Church Picture Gallery, and subsequently joining the Ashmolean as an Assistant Keeper. As part of the Ashmolean’s transformation with a £61 million development project launched in November 2009, I organized the presentation of the European art collections across a series of re-furbished galleries in the historic Cockerell building.

Featured publications

2020 The Eloquent Child in Raphael’s Drawings, in Ben Thomas and Catherine Whistler (eds), Raphael: Drawing and Eloquence, (Urbino: Accademia Raffaello): 101­-119

2020 Invention and Devotion in Giovanni Bellini’s Uffizi Lamentation, in Artibus et Historiae 81: 79-98

2019 Raphael, Oratory and the Art of Drawing, in Marzia Faietti and Achim Gnann (eds), Raffael als Zeichner/ Raffaello disegnatore, colloquium proceedings (Vienna, Albertina, 21-22 November 2017) (Florence: Giunti): 319-343

2018 Disegno a stampa and disegno a mano and the development of the independent landscape drawing in Renaissance Venice, in Alessandro Nova and Daniela Bohde (eds), Jenseits des Disgeno? Die Entstehung selbständiger Zeichnungen in Deutschland und Italien im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert (Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag):104-121

2017 Raphael: The Drawings co-authored with Ben Thomas, with contributions by Achim Gnann and Angelamaria Aceto (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum)

2016 Venice and Drawing 1500–1800: Theory, Practice and Collecting (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) 

2016 Baroque and Later Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum (London: Modern Art Press)

2016 Eloquence in Raphael Drawings with Ben Thomas, Artibus et Historiae, 74: 25–36

2015 Drawing in Venice: Titian to Canaletto including essays by Marzia Faietti, Giorgio Marini and Jacqueline Thalmann (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum)

2014 The Collector’s Eye: Viewing Veronese’s Chiaroscuro Drawings in Late Sixteenth-Century Venice, in Artibus et Historiae, 70: 233–46

2013 Learning to draw in Venice: the role of drawing manuals. In Una Roman d’Elia (ed.) Re-thinking Renaissance Drawings: essays in honour of David McTavish (McGill-Queen’s University Press): 121–36

2013 Merchants and Writers: the Ashmolean’s Titian collection and some 19th-century owners in Peter Humfrey (ed.) The Reception of Titian in Britain, c.1780–1880 (Turnhout: Brepols): 203–14

2012 Uncovering Beauty: Titian’s Triumph of Love in the Vendramin Collection, Venice, in Renaissance Studies, 26: 218–42