Research of Nathan Flis

I am currently completing my doctoral dissertation, ‘From the Life: the Art of Francis Barlow (c.1626-1704)’ in the History of Art at the University of Oxford. Prompted by the discovery of a group of prints of birds and animals (the precise function of which perplexed me), my thesis is a micro-historical account of the life and work of Francis Barlow, English painter of birds and beasts, draughtsman, etcher, book illustrator, satirist, and sometime stationer: his movement and place within communities of picture-makers, publishers, instrument-makers, naturalists, antiquarians, writers, poets, and politicians. Bringing forty-three of his paintings and numerous drawings and prints to light, I trace Barlow’s work in three genres: Natural History; Political and Religious Troubles; and Hunting and Travel, and gradually demonstrate the fluidity between these artificial categories, as reflected in the interconnectedness of a vast and varied oeuvre.

In general, I work on 16th and 17th European paintings, drawings, and prints (especially English and French, but also Italian, Dutch, and Flemish). Thematically, I focus on the natural world, or what the natural world might be thought to contain: creatures, plants, features of the landscape, and human interaction with these contents. Apart from personal interests in art, art making, and nature, these interests have developed from a longtime preoccupation with the relationship between the modern categories of ‘art’ and ‘science’, or the distinction between the concepts of ‘human society’ and the ‘natural world’, and the problems associated with imposing these dichotomies on our understanding of the early modern period. Despite my theoretical interest, I am largely led by the object, and by the question of what an artifact such as a picture can tell us about our relationship with nature and ourselves.

Publications include:

‘Drawing, Etching, and Experiment in Christopher Wren’s Figure of the Brain,’ Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 37 (2), forthcoming Spring 2012

‘The Drawings of Francis Barlow: from Apprenticeship to Aesop’s Fables, 1648-66,’ Master Drawings, 49 (4) (Winter 2011): 479-532

Francis Barlow: Painter of Birds & Beasts (London: Robert Boyle Project, 2011), foreword by Michael Hunter; a catalogue accompanying the exhibition at Clandon Park, near Guildford (National Trust), 20 May-24 July, 2011


Fieldfare in flight, detail from Master Montague Drake with his Pony and an Attendant, c.1687-90, oil on canvas, 158.8 x 236.2 cm, Tyrwhitt-Drake collection (photograph Ana Henriques)

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